Obama, Medvedev Ready Arms Control Plan for Wednesday Meeting

(Mar. 30) -Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who enjoyed a flight in a Russian Su-34 fighter-bomber Saturday, is scheduled to meet U.S. President Barack Obama for the first time Wednesday (Alexander Zemlianichenko/Getty Images).
(Mar. 30) -Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who enjoyed a flight in a Russian Su-34 fighter-bomber Saturday, is scheduled to meet U.S. President Barack Obama for the first time Wednesday (Alexander Zemlianichenko/Getty Images).

The U.S. and Russian presidents plan to sign a statement Wednesday pledging to finish a new nuclear arms control agreement before the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty expires in December, Reuters reported (see GSN, March 27).

"We will seek to agree on the terms and time frame for working on an agreement to replace the START treaty so that at our next meeting we can reach our first concrete agreements and conclude all of our work by year's end," said Sergei Prikhodko, an aide to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The two leaders are scheduled to meet for the first time this week on the sidelines of a global economic summit in London.

The existing pact restricts the numbers of nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles each nation may deploy, but its limits and detailed verification provisions are set to lapse on Dec. 5. Another agreement, the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, has spurred much deeper warhead cuts, but lacks any tools for the two sides to confirm those reductions.

Prikhodko said the Kremlin welcomed new U.S. overtures by President Barack Obama, but recognized that negotiations would not be easy.

"A shared understanding is now taking shape that bilateral relations are getting a second chance that must not be missed. We are confident that London will be an important milestone along that path," he said. However, "we fully understand the differences that divide us and harbor no illusions that they will be easily overcome" (Shuster/Shchedrov, Reuters, March 28).

One potentially large area of disagreement is whether Obama plans to continue a Bush administration initiative to deploy U.S. missile defenses in Europe. The plan has riled Russian officials, and Obama has not yet offered his opinion. He has, however, written to Medvedev suggesting that Russian help in curbing Iran's nuclear activities could reduce the rationale for the missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Medvedev, however, appeared to rule out such a deal.

"I don't think you can just trade one thing for another; this is not serious talk," he said in a BBC interview aired yesterday.

He said a cooperative defense would be a better solution to protect against emerging missile threats.

"This should be done through common efforts rather than by deploying any missiles or radars along our borders which give rise to real doubt arises as to what lies behind all this? Is it done to make us nervous or in order to really prevent some threats?" Medvedev said (BBC News, March 29).

March 30, 2009
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The U.S. and Russian presidents plan to sign a statement Wednesday pledging to finish a new nuclear arms control agreement before the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty expires in December, Reuters reported (see GSN, March 27).