With the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit as a background, President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev set the stage for a meeting next weekend in Lisbon, Portugal, saying the two nations will again begin to talk about bringing Russia into the World Trade Organization (WTO) and perhaps some limited participation in NATO.
Meeting in Yokohama, Japan as the two men prepared to head home for a short week of work before the NATO meeting in Portugal, both Medvedev and Obama praised each other and their relationship. But both leaders acknowledged the outstanding issues that remain to be solved.
"I reiterated my commitment to get the START Treaty done during the lame duck session, and I've communicated to Congress that it is a top priority," Obama said.
The treaty, signed in Prague in April, has been stalled in Congress by Republican opposition to the plan that they believe could harm the United States by limiting the missiles the nation is allowed to maintain. According to senior administration officials, the White House is concerned that if the passage drags on it could "bleed" into other bilateral issues between Russia and the United States. But, Fox News producers on Capitol Hill said it's unlikely START will come up during the first week Congress is back in Washington.
For his part, Medvedev previewed what is sure to be on the Russian agenda at the NATO meeting and what the country has long strived for - acceptance into the WTO. Russia has been working to join the organization for years, and has passed a series of reforms deemed necessary for entrance in recent months. The United States has said in the past that Russia should be able to join the WTO by 2011.
"Of late, we have seriously moved forward the question of Russia WTO accession. And I perceive this as a tribute to the team in effect in the U.S. of America, which has fulfilled all the agreements reached during my visit to Washington, D.C. And I hope this process will continue and promptly Russia will join WTO," Medvedev said following the bi-lateral meeting.
Both presidents said they discussed the improvement of relations between NATO and Russia - one of the only remaining former Soviet nations who have not yet joined the NATO alliance. In the past, the U.S. and Russia have clashed over smaller former Soviet satellite nations acceptance into NATO.
"We also discussed the fact that President Medvedev is personally going to be attending the NATO summit in Lisbon, and it allows us to restart the NATO-Russia Council and a host of consultations so that we can reduce tensions and increase cooperation on various security matters in the European theater," Obama said.
Obama heads to Portugal on Friday for the two-day NATO meeting.