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Issues remain in talks in Russia

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

MOSCOW (AP) — Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev confidently committed to a year-end deal to slash nuclear stockpiles by about a third Monday, but the U.S. leader failed to crack stubborn Kremlin objections to America’s missile-defense plans — a major stumbling block to such an agreement.

Both men renewed pledges to pull U.S.-Russian relations out of the dismal state into which they had descended during the eight years of the Bush administration. And to that end, they signed a series of agreements and joint statements designed to enliven and quicken contacts on a broad range of issues — including cooperation on Afghanistan, a key Obama foreign- policy objective.

Obama said the leaders both felt relations had “suffered from a sense of drift. President Medvedev and I are committed to leaving behind the suspicion and rivalry of the past.”

His host expressed similar good will.

“This is the first but very important step in improving full-scale cooperation between our two countries, which would go to the benefit of both states,” the Russian leader said. But he injected a note of caution, saying discussions so far “cannot remove the burden of all the problems.”

There was no statement of Russian readiness to help the United States persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, even though Obama’s top Russia adviser, Michael McFaul, told reporters in a post-meeting briefing that Iran dominated the two leaders’ private meeting that opened the summit. Talks continued in an expanded session that included 12 advisers for each president.

For all the upbeat public statements, a pall of disagreement on missile defense and NATO expansion lingered over the glittering Kremlin hall where Obama and Medvedev answered reporters’ questions. Obama said the meetings had been “frank,” diplomatic speak for difficult.

Obama sits down today with Medvedev’s patron and predecessor as president, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the target of a verbal poke from the U.S. president Friday. In a pre-summit interview with The Associated Press, Obama said Putin still had one foot in the old, Cold War way of doing things.

Though Medvedev insisted Monday that a replacement to the keystone START I nuclear-arms reduction treaty, which expires Dec. 5, must be linked to Russian concerns about the U.S. missile defense program in Eastern Europe, it remained unclear if the Kremlin was prepared to scuttle the negotiations over that issue.

Obama will deliver a speech today to graduates of Moscow’s New Economic School in a bid to reach out to the Russian people. In addition, he plans to meet with opposition leaders who are continually under government pressure for their complaints about retreating democracy and freedom under Putin.