SINGAPORE — After months of insisting negotiators would make the December 5, 2009, deadline, President Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev acknowledged today that they were now attempting to have a re-negotiated START nuclear disarmament treaty ready to sign by the end of the year instead of by December 5 when the old START treaty expires.
"I am confident that if we work hard and with a sense of urgency about it, that we should be able to get that done," President Obama said after meeting with Medvedev, "and I very much feel that both sides are trying to work through some difficult technical issues but are doing so in good faith."
Medvedev repeated that sentiment and said "the world is watching."
Michael McFaul, Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and senior director of Russian and Eurasian Affairs at the United States National Security Council, told reporters that negotiators were working now on two agreements: a new START treaty, and a "bridging agreement" to extend the old START treaty until the new treaty has been signed and ratified by the Russian Duma and the U.S. Senate.
"We do need a bridging agreement no matter what," McFaul said. "The key thing there is verification. We just want to preserve the verification."
Just days ago, National Security Council spokesman Ben Rhodes was asked if negotiators were working on an umbrella agreement to allows negotiations to continue even after the December 5th deadline is missed, and he called the question "premature."
"I mean, there's an ongoing set of negotiations," Rhodes said. "I don't think that the premise that we've decided that it's not going to be complete is what we're operating under."
Sticking points include the asymmetrical nature of the US and Russian forces. Russians, for instance, favor more warheads on fewer launchers, while the US favors fewer warheads on more launchers.
In their fourth meeting, Presidents Obama and Medvedev also talked about their two-track approach towards dealing with Iran's nuclear program: one track in which Iran cooperates with the members of the United Nations Security Council and works to end its nuclear weapons program, and another track in which Iran fails to cooperate and faces tough economic sanctions.
"Unfortunately, so far at least, Iran appears unable to say yes to what everyone acknowledges is a creative and constructive approach," President Obama said. "And that is not just the US position, that’s been the position of the IAEA" — the International Atomic Energy Agency — "and the Director-General (Mohammed) ElBaradei"
But, Obama said, "we are now running out of time with respect to that approach…The United States and Russia will continue to urge Iran to the path that leads them to meeting its international obligations. We can’t count on that. And we will begin to discuss and prepare for these other pathways."
Medvedev said he was "still not satisfied with the pace" of negotiations with Iran, that he was prepared to do further work, but "in case we fail, other options remain on the table."
McFaul said today that Obama and Medvedev discussed specific sanctions.
President Obama also briefed Medvedev on his work towards a new strategy in Afghanistan, and he heralded the US-Russian relationship.
"The reset button has worked," he said.