Obama, Medvedev Agree To Cut Nukes
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President Obama and his Russian counterpart announced a tentative agreement today to reduce their country's nuclear weapons by nearly 25 percent. Arms control was a central topic on the first day of the president's weeklong foreign trip. The president's visit is also a chance to reset relations with Russia, which have been strained. From Moscow, NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY: The U.S. and Russia have the vast majority of the world's nuclear weapons, more than 4,400 warheads between them. For President Obama, who's set a long-range goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, reigning in those arsenals is a way for the former cold warriors to take the lead.
President BARACK OBAMA: It is very difficult for us to exert that leadership unless we are showing ourselves willing to deal with our own nuclear stockpiles in a more rational way.
HORSLEY: Under the joint understanding announced today, both the U.S. and Russia would commit to reducing their warheads and the means of delivering them over the next seven years. There's still a lot of details to work out, but both sides would like to have an agreement by the time the START Treaty expires in December. The two presidents also agreed to work cooperatively on the sensitive subject of defensive weapons. Russia was alarmed by former President Bush's plan to build a missile defense system in Europe. The Obama administration has said that it won't trade that system away for an arms control deal. But he has agreed to at least talk about the issue and that's encouraging to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, speaking here through an interpreter.
President DMITRY MEDVEDEV (Russia): (Through Translator) Some time ago on this question we had only differences. Now this linkage is being stated and this opens up the opportunity of bringing positions closer to each other.
HORSLEY: U.S. plans for missile defense are still undergoing a technical review. And the Obama administration seems less gung ho about the program than President Bush was. Rather than abandon missile defense, though, Obama advisor Gary Seymour says the U.S. hopes to persuade the Russians its plans are nothing to fear.
Mr. GARY SEYMOUR (U.S. Presidential Advisor): Our missile defense system is designed to deal with countries like North Korea and Iran, which will have a very small number, I mean less than a dozen, you know, launchers and warheads.
HORSLEY: Even with the new treaty Russia would have more than 100 times that many. The two presidents also formalized an agreement today to let U.S. troops and war material move through Russia on the way to Afghanistan. They agreed to cooperate on medical matters like swine flu, and they'll resume military cooperation that had been on hold since last summer. The two men used terms like professional and business-like to describe their relationship working together when their interests align and speaking frankly when they disagree. Their disagreements include the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, which fought a war with Russia last year. Mr. Obama said Georgia's sovereignty must be respected.
Pres. OBAMA: And even as we work through our disagreements on Georgia's borders, we do agree that no one has an interest in renewed military conflict. And going forward we must speak candidly to resolve these differences peacefully and constructively.
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HORSLEY: Earlier today, Mr. Obama took part in a somber wreath-laying at Moscow's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a reminder of the last great war in which the U.S. and Russia fought on the same side. As he told reporters today, he's also reaching out to ordinary Russians during this visit. He meets tomorrow with business people, non-profit organizers and opposition leaders.
Pres. OBAMA: The United States and Russia have more in common than they have differences and if we work hard during these next few days that we can make extraordinary progress that will benefit the people of both countries.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama also holds a breakfast meeting tomorrow with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a man he says still has one foot stuck in the old way of doing business. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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