Before his meeting with his Russian counterpart, Obama said he was confident he and Medvedev could build on the discussions they began at the G-20 summit in London in April, and said the two nations have more in common than they have differences. He expressed confidence that the two nations could make "extraordinary progress" on an agenda that is dominated by a push to reach a fresh agreement on nuclear arms control.
Obama's trip to Moscow marks the first U.S.-Russian summit in nearly a decade. The U.S. president was accompanied to Moscow by his wife, first lady Michelle Obama, and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, who are along for the trip.
The focus of this first leg of the trip is the continued "reset" of U.S.-Russian relations that Obama spoke about today and first expressed when he was then-President-elect Obama last December. White House officials said that they want to make progress in warming the recent thaw that has characterized relations between the two countries.
Earlier this year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to illustrate how the U.S. was ready to repair the strained relationship, presenting her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, with a red button that was meant to say "reset" in English and Russian. Except that there was a problem in translation, and the button said "overcharge" in Russian, meaning overloaded.
The clock is winding down on the deadline for a new U.S.-Russian arms treaty before the previous Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, expires Dec. 5, and the White House is aware of the deadline.
"We are under the gun to try to get something to replace it by the end of the year," said Michael McFaul, special assistant to the president and senior director for Russian and Eurasian Affairs, last week.
A senior White House official said Sunday that the difficulty of meeting the impending deadline might mean temporarily bypassing the Senate's constitutional role in ratifying treaties by enforcing certain aspects of a new deal on an executive level and a "provisional basis" until the Senate ratifies the treaty.
"The most ideal situation would be to finish it in time that it could be submitted to the Senate so that it can be ratified," said White House coordinator for weapons of mass destruction, security and arms control Gary Samore. "If we're not able to do that, we'll have to look at arrangements to continue some of the inspection provisions, keep them enforced on a provisional basis, while the Senate considers the treaty."
The fact that the administration is preparing for such an extraordinary measure shows just how much pressure the two administrations are under to arrive at an agreement before the 18-year-old treaty expires.
But as the two nations move forward on the arms agreement, there are several sticking points that remain contentious, most significantly, the issue of NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia and the planned U.S. missile defense sites in eastern Europe, both of which Russia opposes.
Obama reiterated his "firm belief that Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected."
"Yet, even as we worked through our disagreements on Georgia's borders, we do agree that no one has an interest in renewed military conflict. And going forward, we must speak candidly to resolve these differences peacefully and constructively," he said.