Obama, Medvedev Sign Arms Reduction Treaty: 'An Important Milestone for Nuclear Security'

"The United States and Russia are part of a coalition of nations insisting that the Islamic Republic of Iran face consequences, because they have continually failed to meet their obligations," Obama said. "We are working together at the UN Security Council to pass strong sanctions on Iran. And we will not tolerate actions that flout the NPT, risk an arms race in a vital region, and threaten the credibility of the international community and our collective security."

After the press conference, Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said if sanctions were to be placed on Iran, they would have to be carefully considered and highly targeted.

"A total embargo on deliveries of refined oil products to Iran would mean a slap, a blow, a huge shock for the whole society. These types of things that shock the fundaments of a society are something that we definitely are not prepared to consider," Ryabkov told reporters.

White House officials countered that people talk about their red lines and bottom lines in all negotiations, and these discussions are no different.

"President Medvedev made publicly clear that he does not support sanctions that will lead to economic hardship for the Iranian people that would foment economic chaos or would lead to regime change," Michael McFaul, special assistant to the president and senior director for Russian Affairs, said today. "We actually agree with him on that."

U.S. officials agreed with the Russians that they want to use sanctions as a tool to change Iranian behavior. They refused to set more of a deadline for sanctions other than to say "in the broader context of spring."

Raw Nerves

Negotiators from the two countries have been working intensely on this issue since a year ago when Presidents Obama and Medvedev met, but it has not always been an easy process -- deadlines have been missed, negotiations at points have been difficult.

Medvedev once described the negotiations seeming like "Mission Impossible," yet today he touted that the agreement was a "win-win" situation.

Still, important differences remain. Russia continues to claim that the new treaty establishes an "inextricable connection" with missile defense, while the White House says they are wrong and argues the opposite.

At the press conference following the formal treaty signing today Obama said that plans for U.S. missile defense are not intended to change the "strategic balance" with Russia, but are instead aimed at "protecting the American people" from potentially new attacks from missiles launched from third countries.

"We recognize however that Russia has a significant interest in this issue," Obama said. "And what we've committed to doing is engaging in a significant discussion not only bilaterally but also having discussions with our European allies and others about a framework in which we can potentially cooperate on issues of missile defense in a way that preserves U.S. national security interests, preserves Russia's national security interests and allows us to guard against a rough missile from any source."

The president did add that he will not do anything that "endangers or limits" his ability to protect the American people.

"We also want to be clear that the approach that we have taken in no way is intended to change the strategic balance between the U.S. and Russia," he said.

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