Leaders OK talks on arms

Obama, Medvedev see new era in U.S., Russia relations

April 02, 2009|By Christi Parsons and Megan Stack | Christi Parsons and Megan Stack,Tribune Newspapers

President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed Wednesday to open negotiations on a treaty that could slash nuclear arsenals by one-third as part of what they said would be a new era in relations between the two countries.

The agreement, the result of the first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders and coming on the eve of Thursday's Group of 20 economic summit, included a promise by Obama to visit Moscow this summer to pursue the talks.

"Over the last several years, the relationship between our two countries has been allowed to drift," Obama said. "What I believe we've begun today is a very constructive dialogue that will allow us to work on issues of mutual interest."

Although hailed by arms control experts, word of the agreement was not seen as a surprising development. Obama had said he favors beginning talks, and Russian officials have been eager to come up with a new treaty to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expires Dec. 5.

However, the fact that the two leaders reached consensus as the centerpiece of such a high-profile meeting was seen as significant. Combined with directions to negotiators to strive for progress in advance of Obama's visit in July, it signals a major step toward the most significant arms discussions in more than a decade.

"This has been on the radar for quite some time," said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington. "The fact that they've put it front and center of their bilateral agenda is important."

The current treaty, which took effect in 1994, limits the world's two largest nuclear arsenals to 1,700 to 2,200 nuclear warheads. A new treaty could reduce nuclear arsenals to 1,500 warheads.

The White House placed the agreement in the larger context of nuclear proliferation around the world, a subject the president will address later this week during a meeting of the European Union in Prague.

Russia remains intent on persuading Obama to scuttle the Bush administration's plans for missile defense facilities close to Russia's border, in Poland and the Czech Republic.

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