The US and Russia are not only pushing the "reset" button to freshen their mutual relations, they're chucking their long-standing way of dealing with arms-reduction.
President Obama met Russian President Dmitri Medvedev Wednesday for the first time as president, ahead of their G20 meetings in London. Along with the talk of mutual agreement on a variety of issues, the leaders announced their intention to substitute a new arms-reduction treaty in place of the long-standing "Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty", or START.
The program was initiated under President Ronald Reagan in 1982 and signed by President George H.W. Bush and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev on July 31, 1991. The original purpose of the treaty was to reduce nuclear arsenals, and therefore tensions, between the Soviet Union and the US. Well, the Soviet Union fell mere months after the treaty was signed and the Obama team now says the treaty has "completely fulfilled its intended purpose".
START expires in December of this year; a perfect opportunity for the two parties to update their arms-reduction goals. They will begin anew to negotiate a legally-binding agreement to reduce "strategic offensive arms", which amount to warhead and delivery system reductions, to be completed by the time START expires. As Fox's Major Garrett has reported, "The goal for both countries is to reduce stockpiles of warheads to no more than 1,500 per side." There will be verification of the efforts.
White House officials were sure to stress, though, that Wednesday's pivotal first meeting between Obama and Medvedev was not an opening diplomatic salvo. The two leaders have spoken by phone and their deputies have been in contact, as well, to advance the agreement prior to their meeting.
But the resetting of relations between the two countries goes beyond this new agreement. Sitting side-by-side before the press, Medvedev and Obama tried to shed past discord and optimistically looked to the future. "I think that over the last several years the relationship between our two countries has been allowed to drift. And what I believe we've begun today is a very constructive dialogue that will allow us to work on issues of mutual interest, like the reduction of nuclear weapons and the strengthening of our nonproliferation treaties; our mutual interest in dealing with terrorism and extremism that threatens both countries; our mutual interest in economic stability and restoring growth around the world; our mutual interest in promoting peace and stability in areas like the Middle East," President Obama said.
Medvedev also lamented that relations with the US had been "...drifting, and drifting in some wrong directions. They were degrading, to some extent."
But now the two are touting their areas of agreement, while candidly admitting there are still outstanding disagreements on Georgia, the idea of "spheres of influence" and on missile defense.
White House aides say they have "no illusions" that about how easy their work ahead is. Obama and Medvedev intend to meet again in July, on Medvedev's turf. July in Russia would be preferable to January, Obama jokingly pointed out.
There's much more work ahead to nurture this renewed relationship in a substantive way. As a senior administration official put it "[There] was a conscious strategy on the Bush administration's part to develop this personal rapport [with Former Russian President Vladimir Putin]. Our strategy is different than that. Our strategy is to develop an agenda based on interests; also accentuating where we disagree -- but not to make the goal of these meetings to establish some, you know, buddy-buddy relationship."
So maybe Obama didn't get a good look into Medvedev's soul, but he certainly is trying.
- Kelly Chernenkoff