Presidents Obama and Medvedev bond at Ray's Hell Burger
Friday, June 25, 2010
During the Cold War, President Richard Nixon once gave Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev a Lincoln Continental. The car fanatic and notoriously bad driver immediately took the startled president on a high-speed ride through the twisting mountain roads near Camp David, running a stop sign in the process.
President Obama kept things simpler Thursday. He took visiting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to his favorite hamburger joint, Ray's Hell Burger in Arlington County, and paid for Medvedev's order of a cheddar cheeseburger, piled high with onions, jalapeno peppers and mushrooms, shared fries and a Coke.
Such symbols of high-level bonding have been important in the relationship between the two nuclear powers. For the Obama administration, the image of the two youthful leaders casually lunching on burgers serves as a useful counterpoint to superpower summitry and the high tensions at the end of George W. Bush's administration.
To drive the message home, the White House issued a 10-page fact sheet detailing how Obama has "reset" the relationship with Russia. The presidents also issued a blizzard of joint statements, covering such issues as energy efficiency, open government, adoptions and turmoil in Kyrgyzstan.
The lack of major news from the meeting -- the seventh between the two men since Obama took office 17 months ago -- was news itself, suggesting as it did a businesslike relationship increasingly devoid of high drama.
At a joint news conference with Medvedev, Obama gave an unqualified endorsement of Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization. This has long been a Russian goal, but the U.S. support has come with enough strings that Russian officials suspected Washington of preferring to keep Moscow out of the trade group.
"Russia belongs in the WTO," Obama said, noting that Moscow has indicated its "seriousness about achieving membership in the WTO" by agreeing to lift restrictions hindering U.S. poultry exports to Russia. Obama said the two countries are 90 to 95 percent of the way to a deal on the matter.
In a joint statement, they identified Sept. 30 as the deadline for settling the remaining issues blocking Russia's entry. "Our governments will therefore both undertake the most vigorous possible efforts in the coming months -- bilaterally and with other members of the WTO -- to build and sustain the momentum towards completing the remaining steps in this process," it said. The leaders said Washington had pledged Moscow "its full support and best advice in the WTO accession process."
At the news conference, Medvedev called Ray's "an interesting place" that was "typically American" and "not quite healthy, but it is very tasty."
Obama took note of Medvedev's earlier stop in Silicon Valley, where the Russian leader toured technology firms such as Cisco Systems and Apple. Causing a few snickers among the press, Obama noted that Medvedev had signed up for an account with "Twitters."
The micro-blogging site is called Twitter.
"I have one, as well," Obama said. "We may finally be able to throw away those red phones that have been sitting around for so long."