Obama in Moscow to ‘Reset’ Relations
A top U.S. arms control official expressed optimism Sunday that President Obama and Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev can move toward a new arms control deal when they begin their first summit Monday.
Obama arrives for a two-day visit in an effort to "reset" relations with Russia after years of tension. Besides revising the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expires in December, Obama also wants Russia's help to curb the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea.
"The main thing that I want to communicate to Russian leadership and the Russian people is America's respect for Russia," Obama told Russian television this weekend. "We want to deal as equals."
Hitting the reset button won't be easy. Charles Kupchan, an international relations specialist at Georgetown University, said there have been several "mixed messages" sent by the Kremlin. "The big unknown," he said, "is whether the Russians are ready to do business."
Gary Samore, the top arms control official with the National Security Council, said Sunday details need to be worked out on how many long-range weapons to cut and how to verify those reductions. The U.S. and Russia hold more than 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons. Samore said he believes Obama and Medvedev will move forward: "We think the summit will register progress toward an agreement."
One obstacle is Russian objections to U.S. plans for a missile defense system near its borders in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Medvedev told Italian media on Sunday that the Bush administration was "very hard-headed" about backing the system but believes the Obama administration "is ready to discuss" Russia's concerns. "Then we can agree on the basic foundations of a new START treaty and agree at the same time on how we will approach missile defense," he said.
The U.S. and Russia fell out over the Iraq war and the Russian war in Georgia, each side accusing the other of irresponsible behavior.
Russia also has balked at tougher sanctions on Iran, an economic ally. Medvedev called Iran's disputed presidential election of June 12 and the government's crackdown on protesters an "internal affair." Obama questioned the legitimacy of Iran's election and condemned recent violence.
In his interview, Medvedev called Iran "a partner," but said nuclear weapons "pose a threat" to all neighbors. He also said he will talk with Obama about letting the U.S. use Russian air space to deliver supplies to Afghanistan.
Obama meets separately with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, whom he said has "one foot in the old ways of doing business."