Obama, Medvedev Pledge Cooperation

President Obama met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in London on Wednesday. Both say they'll try to put a new nuclear arms reduction deal in place before the existing treaty expires in December. Video by AP
By Michael D. Shear and Scott Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 2, 2009

LONDON, April 1 -- President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced the start of negotiations Wednesday on a new strategic arms-control treaty that would cut each nation's long-range nuclear arsenal further than previous agreements, inaugurating what both men indicated would be a more pragmatic relationship than the one their predecessors pursued.

The 70-minute meeting, held at the residence of the U.S. ambassador to Britain, produced a joint statement pledging cooperation on issues including Afghanistan, Iran's nuclear program, nuclear proliferation and reviving the global economy. The statement also noted that "differences remain" over U.S. plans to deploy a missile-defense shield in Eastern Europe, Russia's war with Georgia last year, and NATO's plan to expand deeper into what Russia considers its traditional sphere of influence.

Speaking to reporters from a sitting area overlooking the rolling lawn outside Obama's guesthouse, Obama and Medvedev shunned the personal analysis that accompanied the 2001 meeting between Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin, when the American leader said he was "able to get a sense of his soul." That initial meeting defined the Bush-Putin relationship for years, a period when U.S. and Russian interests diverged sharply on policies regarding security, energy and human rights.

"What I believe we've begun today is a very constructive dialogue that will allow us to work on issues of mutual interest," Obama said after the private meeting, held on the eve of the Group of 20 economic meeting. He announced that he plans to travel to Moscow in July for a summit.

Medvedev, a lawyer by training who is showing signs of trying to emerge from Putin's shadow, said: "I can only agree that relations between our countries have been adrift over the past years."

He added: "There are far more points in which we can, where we can come closer, where we can work, rather, on those points where we have differences."

The Medvedev meeting was just one element of a day for Obama that included talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Chinese leader Hu Jintao about the global economic crisis. Obama said he will also visit China before the end of the year. The day ended with an elaborate dinner at 10 Downing Street for leaders of the G-20 countries, whose combined economies account for 85 percent of the world's economy.

But the Medvedev talks were the most scrutinized part of Obama's second day here, with observers eager to assess how a relative novice to international politics would work with a Russian government that in just the past year has cut off gas supplies to Europe in the middle of winter and waged war in Georgia to protect its interests.

"Both of these guys are wary of producing any new jokes about souls and eyes," said Stephen Sestanovich, the George F. Kennan senior fellow for Russian and Eurasian studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. "They know the relationship has not been good, and if you look at the statement of what they want to work on, it's less warm than the Bush-Putin Sochi agreement of last year, which mentioned friendship, partnership and human rights."

Officials from both countries described the meeting as businesslike.

"We are not being naive about this," a senior U.S. official said. "When there's disagreement, we're going to honestly disagree. But we're going to try to avoid problems that come as a result of misunderstandings."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov praised what he called a "new atmosphere of mutual trust . . . which does not create the illusion of good relations because they develop well on a personal level but which ensures taking into account mutual interests and readiness to listen to each other."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company