MOSCOW -- President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday pledged they were on the path to "reset" U.S.-Russian ties, announcing agreements on nuclear arms treaties and future work on missile defense, and making clear a new dawn has come after a growing darkness in relations.
"We resolve to reset U.S.-Russian relations so that we can cooperate more effectively in areas of common interest," Obama said at a press conference with Medvedev in the Kremlin.
"Today we've made meaningful progress and demonstrated through means and words what a more constructive U.S. Russian relationship can look like in the 21st century," Obama added.
"We have agreed that we will continue to communicate further on," Medvedev said. "In reality for our relations it is very important and it is not a simple job because the backlog of problems is quite impressive."
The joint understanding on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, commits the United States and Russia to reduce their strategic warheads to a range of 1,500-1,675, and their strategic delivery vehicles to a range of 500-1,100. It is an update to the START deal ratified in 2001 that is set to expire in December. The previous deal allowed up to 2,200 warheads and 1,600 launch vehicles.
It also sets out plans to establish a Joint Data Exchange Center, which will notify each country of planned missile launches. It also calls on other countries with "missile potential to refrain from steps that could lead to missile proliferation and undermine regional and global stability."
And it urges interested countries to cooperate in assessing the danger of global proliferation of ballistic missiles.
The joint statement is the result of more than three months of negotiations between Russian and U.S. officials that began in London on April 1. It says it is a commitment to finding "optimum ways of strengthening strategic relations on the basis of mutual respect and interests."
"We are seeing a pace of potential proliferation that we have not seen in quite some time," Obama said. "There is deep concern about Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons capability, not simply because of one country wanting nuclear weapons but the fact that if Iran obtained nuclear weapons it is almost certain the other countries in the region would then decide to pursue their own programs and we would then see a nuclear arms race in perhaps the most volatile part of the world."
Obama also reminded Medvedev how the two nations have gotten through tough times before. "Part of what got us through the Cold War is a sense of parity and deterrent capability that both sides understood that a first strike could result in an extremely heavy price."
The announcement of arms reduction was the first objective on an ambitious agenda developed for their first summit between the two countries. The two presidents also reached agreement on allowing flights through Russian airspace for U.S. forces in Afghanistan and reaffirming their commitment to fighting terrorists and drug traffickers in Afghanistan.
The White House said the U.S. and Russian leaders also vowed to press forward jointly with bettering the Afghan economy, social structures and living standards.
Defeating Taliban and Al Qaeda allied militants in Afghanistan is one of Obama's top foreign policy objectives. The Russians are also concerned about stopping the flow of opium and heroin that is plaguing the Russian federation and ending Islamic-rooted extremism in the former Soviet republics that border Afghanistan.
"This is a substantial contribution from Russia to our international effort ... and will save time and resources" for U.S. forces battling terrorists in Afghanistan, Obama said.
Obama and Medvedev started off their first summit on a positive note, all smiles at a press event before the two delegations proceeded into closed door meetings. Medvedev expressed optimism about the meetings, saying the two nations were "closing some of the pages of the past and opening some of the pages of the future."
"Even the weather favors us," he then joked about the drizzly gray skies blanketing Moscow. "It may be chilly outside but it's warm inside."
The first U.S.-Russia summit since the early part of the George W. Bush presidency presents a challenge for Obama -- with Russia's wary public, a two-headed leadership and lingering hard feelings. Much of the world will watch signs of Obama's relationship with Russia's two leaders, Medvedev and his mentor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
The foundation set now could affect how much cooperation Obama gets in areas in which the U.S. needs help from Russia -- chiefly pressuring Iran and North Korea to give up their nuclear weapons ambitions, but also in tackling terrorism, global warming and the economy.
Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and their two children arrived in Moscow on Monday afternoon, with several agreements already in the works.
Among the deals made is a new joint commission to try to account for missing service members of both countries dating back to World War II. Four working groups will look into missing military personnel from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War and Soviet military personnel still missing from Moscow's 10-year occupation of Afghanistan.
The White House also said the two countries have agreed to cooperate in the fields of public health and medical research, an arrangement intended to range across public health issues from infectious diseases to promotion of healthy lifestyles to improving global health. A deal was also reached for the Russians to accept U.S. livestock.
Yet, the two sides remain in a stalemate over the U.S. pursuit of a missile-defense system in Europe. Obama's administration is reviewing the efficacy of plan, which Bush had pushed hard. The presidents vowed to keep working on the topic.
The basic problem is unchanged: The U.S. contends the program is designed to protect U.S. allies in Europe from a potential nuclear attack by Iran, but the Russians see it as a first step toward a system that could weaken their offensive nuclear strike potential.
Russia and U.S. ties have plenty of room for improvement. Obama, who has enjoyed adoring crowds in travels across Europe so far, will face a skeptical Russian population, polling out Sunday shows.
Only 23 percent of Russians have confidence in Obama to do the right thing in international affairs, according to the University of Maryland's WorldPublicOpinion.org. Just 15 percent of the Russians polled said the U.S. is playing a positive role in the world; most said the United States abuses it power and makes Russia do what the U.S. wants.
"I would like there to be real change, not just talk," said Valentina Titova, a 60-year-old retired economist strolling not far from the Kremlin. "I would like to see America meddle less in other countries. They think they're so superior to others, they put themselves on a pedestal."
Aiming to change attitudes, Obama will outline his vision for U.S.-Russian relations at a speech at the New Economic School. It is unclear how many people will see it. Russian leaders control the television outlets.
But Obama told a Russian-language news channel in the days before the summit: "America respects Russia. We want to build relations where we deal as equals."
Yet he caused a stir in Russia by telling The Associated Press last week that Putin has to learn that "the old Cold War approaches to U.S.-Russian relations is outdated." That only elevated the stakes of Obama's first meeting with Putin, which is set for Tuesday.
Russia and the United States have been allies and adversaries. Obama inherited more of the latter, with relations having tanked in 2008 over Russia's war with neighboring Georgia.
FOX News' Eve Zibel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.