x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Obama lauds deals with Russia

The US president and his Russian counterpart sign an arms-reduction pact to replace an expiring Soviet-era accord.

MOSCOW // Praising a return to pragmatism and constructive co-operation, the US president, Barack Obama, and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, signed a raft of agreements yesterday including a preliminary arms-reduction deal to replace an expiring Soviet-era accord. Highlighting what the two leaders called the "special responsibility" of their countries to limit the threat of nuclear weapons, Mr Obama and Mr Medvedev agreed to significantly reduce nuclear stockpiles and strategic delivery systems in a framework agreement to replace the Start-1 treaty. The deal also commits the updated treaty to lower longer-range missiles for delivering nuclear bombs to between 500 and 1,100. The limit for warheads would be in a range of 1,500 to 1,675 each. Between them, the two countries possess more than 90 per cent of the world's nuclear weapons.

The two leaders also signed a deal in which Russia would grant the US access to its airspace to transport weapons and equipment to Afghanistan for US-led military operations there. They agreed that there has not been as much progress as they would like to see in the fight against insurgents in Afghanistan. Mr Obama said it is too soon to measure the success of his new strategy in Afghanistan, which includes the deployment of additional US troops.

He said after that country's election is completed, the United States can take another look at the situation. Mr Medvedev said that in some respects, progress has been "insignificant" in Afghanistan. He said it is hard to say how quickly the situation will improve. They also issued a vague statement about jointly analysing missile threats in connection with Washington's plans to place elements of a missile defence system in Eastern Europe, which is fiercely opposed by Moscow. Beyond the deals signed at the first full US-Russian summit in seven years, however, the two presidents made visible efforts to show they are interested in repairing the battered bilateral ties they inherited from their respective predecessors, George W Bush and Vladimir Putin, now Russia's prime minister.

"We came to the conclusion that the current state of Russian-American relations is not reaching its potential and is not consistent with the possibilities of our countries," Mr Medvedev said. "Most importantly, [it] is not consistent with the needs of a new era." Mr Obama landed on a rain-drenched afternoon in the Russian capital with his wife, Michelle, and their two daughters. After his official reception on the tarmac at Moscow's Vnukovo airport, Mr Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside the Kremlin walls before heading inside for his talks with Mr Medvedev.

While the two leaders were in talks, Michelle Obama and her daughters, Malia and Sasha, toured the Kremlin with Russia's first lady, Svetlana Medvedeva. "We are confident that we can continue to build on the excellent discussions that we had in London," Mr Obama told Mr Medvedev in comments before their talks in the Kremlin, referring to the leaders' first meeting at the G20 summit in April. "And that on a whole host of issues ? the United States and Russia have more in common than they have differences and that if we work hard in these next few days we can make extraordinary progress."

Greeting Mr Obama in the Kremlin with a grin and referring to him as "Dear Barack", Mr Medvedev said he hoped the talks would help "close a number of difficult pages in Russian-American relations and turn a new page". Mr Obama today is scheduled to meet Mr Putin, who is widely seen as the country's true leader, in the first meeting ever between the two politicians. The US president declined to engage in speculation about who is actually in charge in Russia, saying that the Russian tandem works "very effectively" together.

"My understanding is, President Medvedev is the president ? and Prime Minister Putin is the prime minister," Mr Obama said. Later, Mr Obama is to deliver a commencement address to the New School of Economics and will meet members of Russia's political opposition and civil society representatives. The Kremlin has bristled at such meetings between foreign leaders and some of its harshest critics. Although the meeting will include several vociferous Kremlin opponents - including liberal politician Boris Nemtsov and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov - some opposition politicians who will attend the meeting are echoing the conciliatory tone of the summit.

Sergei Mitrokhin, leader of the liberal Yabloko Party, which has taken the Kremlin to task for human rights abuses in Russia but remains on the political margins, said he would like to discuss with Mr Obama US-Russian co-operation in Afghanistan, a strategic partnership deal as well as a possible joint US-Russian missile defence system. Mr Mitrokhin said issues of civil society and democracy should be addressed internally and that airing Russia's dirty laundry in front of Mr Obama would be counterproductive. "These are issues that Russia must deal with," Mr Mitrokhin said in an interview. Mr Obama "knows there are problems with human rights in Russia. He doesn't need us to tell him that."

* With additional reporting by the Associated Press cschreck@thenational.ae