Obama and Medvedev Reach Agreement to Reduce Nuclear Arsenals

President Barack Obama has met with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The two said they hope to ease relations between the U.S. And Russia and put any differences behind them. Video by AP
By Michael A. Fletcher and Philip P. Pan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, July 7, 2009

MOSCOW, July 6 -- President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev reached a preliminary agreement Monday to cut the American and Russian nuclear arsenals by as much as a third while exploring options for cooperation on missile defense.

The agreement lays out a clear yet difficult path to replace a landmark arms-control treaty that will expire in December. The pact was the most significant among those signed at a summit designed to show that "resetting" relations between the two nations could bridge longstanding differences.

The two leaders also signed agreements allowing the transit of U.S. military personnel and weapons through Russia to Afghanistan, restoring military-to-military ties and pledging cooperation to limit the spread of nuclear materials.

The deal instructs negotiators to draft a new accord that would maintain the critical verification mechanisms of the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and reduce the number of deployed nuclear warheads in each country to between 1,500 and 1,675, down from the previous ceiling of 2,200.

"As the world's two leading nuclear powers, the United States and Russia must lead by example, and that's what we're doing here today," Obama said at a news conference in the Grand Kremlin Palace's ornate St. Andrew Hall after the signing ceremonies.

Medvedev described the arms-control agreement as a "reasonable compromise" and "the first but very important step in the process of improving full-scale cooperation between our two countries."

But the two leaders were unable to resolve a dispute over reductions in missile launchers and bombers, agreeing only that the START limit of 1,600 of such "delivery vehicles" for each country should be lowered to between 1,100 and 500.

The wide range reflects continuing U.S. unwillingness to accept the Kremlin's demands for sharp cuts and could make it difficult for a new treaty to be negotiated and ratified before START expires.

The Russian military is worried that the launchers and bombers could be used to quickly rebuild the U.S. nuclear arsenal and would pose a threat to Russian forces even if armed with non-nuclear warheads. But sharper reductions would be difficult for the Obama administration to accept politically.

The two presidents appeared to achieve progress in the long-standing dispute over U.S. missile defense plans, agreeing to work together to assess threats posed by countries such as Iran and North Korea. They also agreed to explore cooperation in missile defense and intensify talks on establishing a joint center for early detection of hostile launches.

While most of the agreements announced Monday were worked out by negotiators ahead of the summit, Obama and Medvedev reached the deal on missile defense themselves, said Michael A. McFaul, a senior Russia expert in the Obama administration.

Until the meeting, Russia had refused to accept any statement on missile defense cooperation unless the United States also renounced plans for deploying the system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

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