MOSCOW (Agencies: July 07 2009): Visiting US President Barack Obama and Kremlin leader Dmitry Medvedev agreed a target for cuts in nuclear arms and a deal to let US troops fly across Russia at the start of a trip intended to mend strained ties. At a joint news conference in Moscow, the two leaders spoke of their resolve to put differences behind them and focus on co-operating to solve global problems such as the spread of nuclear weapons.
Both mentioned the issues that still divide them – Russia’s opposition to Washington’s plans for a missile defense shield in central Europe and US insistence on Georgia’s territorial integrity – but stressed the positives in public. Obama praised Medvedev as a "straightforward, professional" leader who understood the interests of the Russian people and wanted to understand those of the United States, adding: "We have resolved to reset US-Russia relations so that we can cooperate more effectively."
At a signing ceremony, Obama and Medvedev, wearing identical dark suits, white shirts and red ties, pledged to finalize a treaty by the year-end to cut the number of deployed nuclear warheads on each side to 1,500-1,675 from levels above 2,200
Medvedev described their talks as "very useful and open, businesslike conversations" and said they would aim to build a US-Russia relationship worthy of the 21st century. Russia will allow 4,500 flights a year carrying US troops and weapons to the war in Afghanistan to cross its vast territory free of charge, a move hailed by the US side as showing Moscow’s willingness to help in the war on the Taliban.
Other accords covered the resumption of US-Russia military co-operation, the creation of a new joint government commission, and an exchange of information on prisoners of war, according to texts released by officials.
Clouds remain on the horizon. Senior Russian officials repeatedly emphasized in the run-up to the visit that Moscow would not sign an arms treaty later this year unless Obama made concessions on US plans for an anti-missile system in Europe, a project hated by the Kremlin which fears it could threaten Russia’s security.
The leaders played down those differences at the Kremlin, saying they had agreed a statement to continue to work together to evaluate global threats from ballistic missiles. Noting that Obama had listened to Russian objections on missile defense, Medvedev used markedly softer language on the issue than Russian officials have done to date.
Obama met today (Tuesday) with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, as well as representatives of Russian human-rights organizations. Obama has been accompanied on his trip by his wife Michelle and their two daughters.
Obama is then to fly to Italy where he will attend the annual G8 summit in L’Aquila. The summit agenda includes the global recession, climate change and the situations in Iran and the Middle East.
The G8 summit comes ahead of the larger Group of 20 planning to meet in September in the US city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to discuss the economic crisis. Obama has been at odds with his European counterparts, who want to see more regulation of US financial markets.
In Ghana, Obama plans to outline his Africa policy in a speech during his first visit as president to the continent. Obama has in years past visited Kenya, the homeland of his late father.