The United States and Russia have come to an agreement to increase assistance and training in Afghanistan, in what administration officials are calling "historic".
The Joint Statement, issued just before a press conference in Moscow with President Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, pledges a commitment to the nation of Afghanistan as it struggles to overcome various political and social challenges.
The Joint Statement reads in part, "We reaffirm our commitment to the goals of the common fight against the threats of terrorism, armed extremism, and illegal drug trafficking in Afghanistan. We shall continue and develop our cooperation in the interest of enhancing the capabilities of the Government of Afghanistan to accomplish key socioeconomic objectives, to raise living standards, and to ensure the security of its people."
The statement was a bit lost in the news about missile defense and START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), but senior administration officials chided reporters for focusing on a cold war type of relationship between the two nations. "This is not the cold war. This is not just a relationship about competition, confrontation and the things we disagree about," said Michael McFaul, a senior adviser on Russia. "This discussion makes me feel a little bit like some of us want to fight what is not a real war. It is not real. The threat that we pose to Russia form our missile defense systems is not real. The President couldn't have been more clear about that."
McFaul highlighted the Russians allowing 4500 flights of American soldiers and equipment going through Russia, a country he admitted, used to be our adversary." We're talking about 4500 flights of American soldiers and equipment going through what used to be our enemy. And they're paying for it. This is something that's very concrete. This is a real war we're fighting."
The United States' rough calculation is that the flights will save around 133 millions dollars in navigation fees, and it's a cost the Russians will now pick up.
Perhaps the most extraordinary of facts in all of this remained unmentioned. It was the United States that helped defeat Russia in Afghanistan in the 1980's in what was seen as one of the last Cold War stands before Communism fell in the U.S.S.R. in the early 90's.
The White House wanted to highlight progress on various efforts the two presidents reached today, saying there was more than one or two signing statements about missile defense and START. "The 8 or 9 things that we did agree upon and the multi-dimensional relationship that we're trying to put together in a very short period of time is what we really talked about, not this part where we have so much contention," McFaul said.