Diplomacy Takes Center Stage at Summit

At G-20, Obama talks nuclear proliferation and cooperation with Russia.

ByABC News
April 1, 2009, 7:59 AM

LONDON April 1, 2009 -- Before the G-20 summit officially began with a dinner for the heads of state this evening, President Obama spent the day hard at work, attempting to build a united approach to tackle the global economic crisis and forge relationships with foreign leaders.

Diplomacy was the order of the day, as Obama announced a partnership on nuclear proliferation with Russia and a new dialogue on human rights with China.

Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met for the first time this morning, after years of what both leaders described as a drift between the two countries.

"I think, over the last several years, I think the relationship between our two countries has been allowed to drift. And I believe what we've done today is a very constructive dialogue which will allow us to work on issues of mutual interests like the reduction of nuclear weapons and the strengthening of our non proliferation treaties," Obama said.

Together they declared a new day in U.S.-Russian relations, pledging to work on nuclear disarmament in countries such as North Korea and Iran, and announcing a plan for bilateral negotiations on arms control, as well as a joint summit in Moscow this summer.

An administration official said the goal of the negotiations would be to shrink the joint U.S.-Russian nuclear arsenal to 3,000 warheads from the current allowable level of 4,400.

"It is important to note that there are many points on which we can work," Medvedev said today at his joint event with Obama, according to a translation from the White House. "And indeed there are far more points ... where we can come closer, where we can work, rather than those points on which we have differences."

While Obama identified a "set of common interests" with Russia, including Afghanistan, Iran, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, economic stabilization and more, administration officials say the leaders diverged on a host of issues.

According to senior officials, Obama expressed opposition to Russia's war with neighboring Georgia, Russian support for the break-away Georgian republics, as well as the notion of Russia's sphere of influence over neighboring cultures.

"I don't think 'spheres of influence' in the 21st century is a useful concept," the president said, according to senior officials.

Another point of contention came regarding the United States building a missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland, which Russia adamantly opposes.

Throughout the day, Obama, who has said that "the world is hungry for American leadership," attempted to establish a cooperative dialogue in his meetings.

"I came to put forward our ideas, but I also came here to listen, and not to lecture," he said.

When asked if the United States was to blame for the global economic crisis, Obama acknowledged that inadequate regulation of the financial markets was a contributing factor, but said he's less interested in identifying blame than fixing the problem.

"In some ways the world has become accustomed to the United States being a voracious consumer market and the engine that drives a lot of economic growth worldwide," he said. "If there's going to be renewed growth, it can't just be the United States at the engine."

With the G-20 concluding Thursday, stakes remain high for the president abroad, but also at home.

"What I think each of us is committed to doing is to make sure that people are getting immediate help, even as we're solving these broader structural problems, because we don't want that kind of suffering, but it's also not good for the overall health of the economic system," Obama said.