U.S.-Russian Summit Yields Crucial Deals
President Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, hailed new agreements Monday on nuclear arms cuts and cooperation in Afghanistan, even as both efforts still face major challenges.
At the opening of the first U.S.-Russian summit in seven years, the two presidents agreed the countries will work toward cutting nuclear warheads and delivery systems by up to a third. The challenge will be reaching agreement on specific cuts, as well as rules for inspection and verification, before the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) expires Dec. 5.
Russia also agreed to give the U.S. air rights to ferrying troops and supplies to Afghanistan. Medvedev expressed concern about progress of the war against a resurgent Taliban and al-Qaeda.
Richard Burt, the top U.S. negotiator for the 1991 START deal, said there are "a host of difficult issues," but the leaders made clear they want "joint U.S.-Russian leadership to reduce their two arsenals."
Burt now heads Global Zero, a group that seeks elimination of all nuclear weapons.
Obama and Medvedev praised the arms agreement, the Afghan accord and other deals as signs of what Obama calls a "reset" in U.S.-Russian relations, which have soured in recent years.
"We've made meaningful progress in demonstrating through deeds and words what a more constructive U.S.-Russian relationship can look like," Obama said during a joint news conference at the Kremlin.
Medvedev called his meetings with the U.S. president "a first, but very important, step" toward "full-scale cooperation between our two countries."
Obama and Medvedev signed a "joint understanding" committing their countries to nuclear arms reductions that would leave them between 1,500 and 1,675 deployed warheads each. The 1991 START granted up to 6,000 warheads; a follow-up to that treaty signed in 2002 allows up to 2,200 each.
Russia has 13,000 total warheads and the U.S. has 9,400, but most are not operational, according to the Federation of American Scientists. Together, they possess more than 90% of the world's nuclear arsenal.
Gary Samore, top arms-control official with the National Security Council, said the there is a "lot of work to do" on a new treaty. "The verification process will be very, very complex," he said
A new treaty would need to be ratified by the U.S. Senate and the Russian Duma.
Medvedev maintained his objections to a proposed U.S. missile-defense system for Poland and the Czech Republic, near Russia's borders. Obama pledged to continue working with the Russians, saying the system is designed to deter rogue states such as Iran and North Korea.
Medvedev also expressed concern about the ongoing war in Afghanistan, calling it "not simple." Medvedev said he didn't want to say the situation has worsened, but "in many aspects, the progress is insignificant."
Obama said that "it's too early to gauge success so far" in Afghanistan. More U.S. troops are arriving there, and a total of 68,000 servicemembers are to be there this summer. Obama said Russia's contributions "could be extraordinarily important," saving U.S. forces time and money.
Andrew Weiss, director of the RAND Center for Russia and Eurasia, said the Russian government may not be comfortable with the U.S. military presence in the region, but the resurgence of the Taliban also threatens them.
"There's not much daylight between the Kremlin and the Obama administration on how the war in Afghanistan is going," Weiss said. "They're both very worried, and that provided a lot of the impetus behind today's agreement."