Obama: U.S., Russia ‘Share Common Interests’
President Obama set a new tone for U.S.-Russian relations during his two days in Moscow, but it will take months to determine how successful this first summit has been.
The two governments must finalize the details of new nuclear arms cuts and debate Russia's objections to a proposed U.S. missile-defense system near its border. The U.S. and Russia also differ on how to deal with the potential of a nuclear-armed Iran.
On his last day here, Obama met Tuesday with government leaders, business people and opposition-party politicians. The president urged graduates of Moscow's New Economic School to "refuse to be burdened by the old obstacles and old suspicions" of the Cold War and help promote democracy and better relations with the United States.
"It is difficult to forge a lasting partnership between former adversaries," Obama said. "But I believe that on the fundamental issues that will shape this century, Americans and Russians share common interests that form a basis for cooperation."
Obama said Americans and Russians need to identify their mutual interests and expand their dialogue. "This must be more than a fresh start between the Kremlin and the White House," he said. "It must be a sustained effort."
Overall, Obama got good marks for his approach to try and "reset" relations that soured after a series of disputes under his predecessor, George W. Bush.
Blair Ruble, a Russia expert with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, said Obama did "exceptionally well in setting a new tone," but "much work remains."
For example, Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed an agreement ordering that their nuclear arsenals be cut by up to a third. Negotiators must still work out how to verify those cuts and other details that will be included in the new version of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expires Dec. 5.
Obama and Medvedev also reached no specific agreements on how to deal with Iran, even though they discussed the country's nuclear ambitions. Obama said he and Medvedev had "constructive discussions" and mentioned Iran seven times as he made remarks about nuclear proliferation. Medvedev, who has opposed tougher economic sanctions on Iran in the past, did not mention Iran at all during his news conference with Obama on Monday.
In an interview Tuesday with ABC News, Obama said, "We're going to have to see whether a country like Russia, for example, is willing to work with us to apply pressure on Iran."
Obama cited other U.S.-Russian disputes that still remain in his speech to the students, such as missile defense.
The U.S. plan, which consists of radar in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles based in Poland, is designed to deter countries like Iran and not intimidate Russia, Obama said.
Obama and Medvedev agreed to continue studying the missile-defense plan as well as the potential threat of ballistic missiles from such nations as Iran and North Korea.
James Collins, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, said Obama made "a good start" on his reset project, such as Russia's decision to grant air rights to U.S. planes carrying supplies to the war in Afghanistan.
He also praised Obama for avoiding the debate over whether Medvedev or Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is really running Russia, by meeting with both.
Some conservatives were more skeptical. John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Bush presidency, said he fears what Obama calls the "reset button" means accepting "much of what Russia wants while getting very little in return."
Many Russians appreciated Obama's visit, said Margarita Simonyan, the top editor at a state-sponsored English-language news channel. She noted Obama praised Russian cultural contributions, from writer Leo Tolstoy to hockey player Alexander Ovechkin. About Obama's willingness to consider Russian concerns about missile defense, Simonyan said: "It is a hopeful sign, but the sign is still a sign. It is not a determination."