U.S.-Russia Summit: Obama, Medvedev Agree to Limit Nuclear Warheads

Russia will also let U.S. use its airspace to transfer troops to Afghanistan.

July 6, 2009, 7:23 AM

MOSCOW, July 6, 2009— -- President Obama and Russian President Dimitry Medvedev announced agreements Monday to limit their nuclear warheads and to cooperate on the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan but did not appear to make any progress on the contentious issue of a U.S. missile defense system in Eastern Europe.

After three hours of meetings at the Kremlin, the two leaders said they will limit their arsenal of strategic nuclear warheads to a range of 1,500-1,675 each, and their strategic delivery vehicles -- such as planes, missiles or submarines -- to a range of 500 to 1,100. The current maximum levels are 2,200 warheads and 1,600 launch vehicles each.

"We must lead by example, and that's what we are doing here today," Obama said in a joint press conference. "We resolve to reset U.S.-Russian relations so that we can cooperate more effectively in areas of common interest."

Obama said the U.S.-Russia relationship had cooled in recent years and reiterated that the trip was aimed at repairing the damages.

"The president and I agreed that the relationship between Russia and the United States has suffered from a sense of drift," Obama said. "President Medvedev and I are committed to leaving behind the suspicion and rivalry of the past."

Though with all of the talk of cooperation and mutual interests, there still were outstanding issues including the plans for a U.S. missile defense system in Eastern Europe, which Medvedev has adamantly and publicly opposed.

Today, the two leaders said there will be an ongoing discussion on the air defense system that will include a threat assessment of Iran and North Korea's missile programs, but it was clear that serious differences remain.

Obama said the system is not meant to as a shield against Russia, but is designed to counter a missile from Iran or North Korea.

"It's important for the United States and its allies to have the capacity to prevent such a strike. There is no scenario from our perspective in which this missile defense system would provide any protection against a mighty Russian arsenal," Obama said.

Medvedev pointed out that his view on this matter is quite different and familiar.

"We realize fully well that the number of threats, including a link to the medium-range and ballistic missiles, is not diminishing but is growing in number, so we all have to think about what configuration on the whole, the global antiballistic missile defense could have," Medvedev said.

For the first time since the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan began in 2001, Russia said it wouldl allow the United States to use its airspace to transfer troops and military equipment to Afghanistan.

The two parties will continue to talk about missile defense and plan to conduct a joint review and threat assessment of the development of missile programs around the world, such as in Iran and North Korea.

"The president and I agreed that the relationship between Russia and the United States has suffered from a sense of drift," Obama said. "President Medvedev and I are committed to leaving behind the suspicion and rivalry of the past."

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.

'Under The Gun' on Arms Treaty

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."

Pressure on Arms Agreement

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.

Asked what kind of reassurances Obama was prepared to offer Russia on these two issues, a White House official said that was not the approach the president would take.

"We're definitely not going to use the word 'reassure' in the way that we talk about these things. We're not going to reassure or give or trade anything with the Russians regarding NATO expansion or missile defense," McFaul said. "We're going to define our national interests, and by that I also mean the interests of our allies in Europe with reference to these two particular questions."

On this trip, Obama faces not just one Russian leader but two -- holding separate meetings with Medvedev, who is formally in charge, and former president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who analysts say may hold the most power.

"Obama would certainly make better use of his time spending more time with Mr. Putin and really trying to understand what makes this guy tick," said Andrew Kuchins of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Today, Obama was asked a direct question about whether he has settled in his mind "who is really in charge here in Russia, the president or Prime Minister Putin?"

Obama avoided the pointed question, instead saying noting Medvedev's and Putin's titles and that Russia allocates power in their own way.

"[M]y interest is in dealing directly with my counterpart, the president, but also to reach out to Prime Minister Putin and all other influential sectors in Russian Society so that I can get a full picture of the needs of the Russian people and the concerns of the Russian people," the U.S. president said.

On Tuesday, Obama also meets with former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev and delivers what the White House is billing as a major address at the commencement of the New Economic School.

Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough said the speech would focus on U.S.-Russia relations, the global economy and "how great powers see this new century."

In the afternoon, Obama shifts his attention to Russia's civil society, meeting with business leaders, heads of civic organizations and opposition leaders.

"The idea here is that this is not 1974, this is not when we go over and just do an arms control agreement with the Soviets, but that we have a multidimensional relationship with the Russian government and the Russian people," McFaul said. "As we reset relations with the Russian government, we also want to reset relations with Russian society."

Iran, Global Economy on the Agenda for Leaders Summit in Italy

Later in the week, Obama travels to Italy for the Group of Eight annual summit and to Ghana, his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa as president.

Obama will spend three days in Italy attending the G-8 summit in L'Aquila, outside Rome. The summit meetings will focus on such countries as Iran and North Korea, the global economy, climate change and aid to Africa.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi moved the summit from its original location in Sardinia to L'Aquila, site of the April 6 earthquake that killed nearly 300 people. The prime minister wanted to bring the summit to the region to boost the area's economy and spotlight the continuing challenges from the earthquake.

On Friday, the president and first lady will meet with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican.

Obama finishes the weeklong trip with a stop in Accra, Ghana, where he will meet with President John Atta Mills, address members of parliament and tour Cape Coast castle, an old slave fort where hundreds of thousands of Africans were held before boarding slave ships.

The White House chose Ghana over other African nations, including Kenya, where his father was from, to showcase a successful African democracy. Ghana has held peaceful democratic elections, including Mills' election earlier this year

"Ghana is a truly admiral example of a place where governance is giving a stronger, thriving democracy," said Michelle Gavin, special assistant to the president and senior director for African affairs. "Far too often discussions about Africa are focused on crisis. And Ghana is not in crisis. It's an example for the region and more broadly."

On the agenda for the meeting with Mills are agricultural development, food security, maternal mortality numbers, and regional issues relating to stability, governance and counternarcotics.

ABC News' Yuni de Nies and Sunlen Miller contributed to this report.