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September 24, 09

NEWS / Weapons Reduction Talks Spur New Cooperation Between U.S., Russia

By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
Staff Writer

Washington — As the two major nuclear superpowers, the United States and Russia have made a substantial commitment to reduce their nuclear weapon stockpiles and both say they will reach an agreement on further reductions by the end of 2009.

“I’m confident that when the United States and Russia work on critical issues like nuclear nonproliferation, that the world rallies behind us and that we will be able to bring about the kind of international peace and security that I think we all want,” President Obama said September 23 at a press briefing in New York with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev after the two met for talks.

The meeting between Obama and Medvedev came just hours before a U.N. Security Council resolution endorsing a framework aimed at eliminating nuclear weapons won unanimous approval. U.S. officials see progress on nuclear issues as part of a broader framework for U.S.-Russian cooperation on a wide range of global problems.

The two leaders talked about efforts to reach a new agreement to succeed the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) that expires December 5. Negotiating teams meet regularly to complete work on the final draft of an agreement that Obama and Medvedev first discussed on the sidelines of the Group of 20 London Summit in April. The draft calls for dramatic reductions in nuclear arsenals below 1,500 warheads and the associated delivery systems such as bomber aircraft, ground-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched missiles.

As owners of more than 95 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, Obama said, the United States and Russia would lead by example, taking concrete steps toward the long-term diplomatic goal of disarmament while sending a powerful message to countries such as Iran and North Korea.

“Both of us are confident that we can meet our self-imposed deadline to get an agreement that substantially reduces our nuclear missiles and launchers by the end of the year,” Obama said.

Much of the success that Obama and Medvedev have enjoyed in the past six to eight months, national security aides say, is a result of the working relationship that has emerged.

Obama said he and Medvedev have been able to develop a significant working relationship both in personal talks and through summits they have attended. Medvedev said that he and Obama personally meet quarterly and talk regularly by telephone, and that “those personal contacts are not an exotic prank, but rather a manifestation of good working relations.” Both will be attending the G20 Pittsburgh Summit beginning September 24.

“Most importantly, we’ve learned to listen to each other once again. And that is of great importance both to the future of relations of the two countries and the two peoples,” Medvedev said.

Presidential adviser Mike McFaul, who is the senior director for Russian affairs on the National Security Council, said the whole project in U.S.-Russian relations from day one was that the United States would pursue its national security interests in all spheres at all times, and that effort would not be based on a trading arrangement of giving this for that.

“On most strategic issues that the United States is pursuing, we don’t see a disagreement with the Russians,” McFaul said. “I think, over time, we have come to a place in U.S.-Russian relations where President Medvedev now has embraced that, and sees that, in fact, we do have a lot more common interests in terms of just our interests as two countries as opposed to maybe where we were six or eight months ago.”


But the two leaders, who met on the sidelines of the opening of the 64th Session of the U.N. General Assembly, spent the bulk of their hourlong meeting discussing Iran. The United States and Russia are among six nations working to convince the Iranian regime to abandon its nuclear weapons development program in return for political and economic incentives. The group has pledged to help Iran develop a fully functioning civilian nuclear energy program for generating electricity, but at the same time have demanded that Iran halt all uranium enrichment, which is a step in the process for developing a nuclear bomb.

Representatives from the six nations, led by European Union foreign affairs chief Javier Solana, will meet with Iranian officials in Geneva October 1.

“I believe that Russia and the United States share the strategic objective that Iran can pursue peaceful energy sources, but that it should not pursue nuclear weapons,” Obama said.

“We also both agree that if Iran does not respond to serious negotiations and resolve this issue in a way that assures the international community that it’s meeting its commitments and is not developing nuclear weapons, then we will have to take additional actions and that sanctions, serious additional sanctions, remain a possibility,” Obama added.

“Sanctions rarely lead to productive results. But in some cases sanctions are inevitable,” Medvedev said.

McFaul said after the presidents’ press briefing that the discussions about Iran were focused on strategies for achieving desired objectives on both the diplomatic track and on a more coercive strategy. Previously, McFaul added, the United States and Russia had very divergent definitions of the threat and strategic objectives regarding Iran.

“That seems to me to be a lot closer, if not almost together,” he said. Neither president, he added, like the use of sanctions, but under certain conditions “they are necessary.”




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