U.S. and Russia set framework to trim nuclear stockpiles
By Christi Parsons and Megan Stack
MOSCOW — President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed in their first summit Monday on a framework to reduce their nations' nuclear arsenals and on steps to fight terrorism and cooperate on the war in Afghanistan.
The agreements had been expected as Obama kicked off his weeklong trip to Russia, the G-8 in Europe and Ghana by meeting with Medvedev. The two countries reached agreements to build closer cooperation between their militaries and to work together on combating the H1N1 virus, or swine flu.
At a news conference in the Kremlin, both presidents praised each other and heralded the summit, the first between the countries since early in the George W. Bush administration.
"In reality, for our relations, it is very important and it is not a simple job because the backlog of problems is quite impressive," Medvedev said.
Obama agreed, complimenting his host.
"We must lead by example, and that's what we are doing here today," Obama said at the televised news conference.
Monday's talks and pledges of cooperation could give way to old, persistent differences when Obama begins Tuesday by having breakfast with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
The encounter is bound to raise an awkward issue: Although Putin is widely believed to be Russia's top authority, he is no longer the president. Medvedev, a longtime underling of Putin's, is still regarded as his junior.
In one of Monday's more diplomatic moments, Obama neatly sidestepped a question about how he saw Medvedev's relationship with Putin. "My understanding is, President Medvedev is the president and Prime Minister Putin is the prime minister," Obama said.
But still lingering is the fresh sting of Obama's recent characterization of Putin as a Cold War throwback with "one foot in the old ways," a charge he unleashed just before leaving Washington.
"Definitely, Putin is not happy," Andrei Kortunov, head of the New Eurasia think tank, said Monday. "It was a pretty bold statement, and he was quite irritated."
Both Obama and Medvedev appeared intent on keeping the tone upbeat and respectful Monday. After landing in Russia, Obama placed a wreath on Moscow's grave of the unknown soldier -- a politically canny show of respect for the enormous World War II casualties that continue to haunt Russia.
Later Obama stood shoulder to shoulder with Medvedev, the two presidents looking youthful and affectionate, deferring to one another's statements and pledging to make deep cuts to nuclear arsenals.
"They sounded rather enthusiastic," said Viktor Kremenyuk, deputy director of Moscow's USA and Canada Institute think tank, "which means they are sure they have done something big."