The American and Russian presidents have reached basic agreement on the need for a follow-up treaty to the START arms limitation pact. This followed summit talks at the Kremlin on Monday to "reset" bilateral relations.
The two leaders appeared keen to focus on positive developments
US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, signed a "joint understanding" aimed at reducing the number of nuclear warheads held by each of their countries to between 1,500 and 1,675, compared with the maximum 2,200 the existing Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between their two countries allows.
The two sides are also to aim to reduce the number of missiles capable of delivering the warheads from the current maximum of 1,600 allowed for each side to between 500 and 1,100.
At a press conference following their summit talks at the Kremlin on Monday, Medvedev said Moscow wanted a "fresh start” in relations with Washington despite persisting differences.
Admitting that relations between the two sides were not at an optimal level, he said "Our countries are aiming at cooperation commensurate with the 21st century." Agreeing to forge ahead with disarmament talks, the Russian leader said showed that Russia and the United States were facing up to their superpower responsibilities.
For his part, Obama praised what he called Russia's contribution in stemming nuclear threats to the world. “We resolved to reset US-Russian relations,” he said at the joint press conference.
He stressed the joint efforts being made towards a follow-up to the START treaty, saying the two countries aimed to "lead by example" in cutting back their nuclear weapons.
Skepticism persists in both countries over what can be achieved
Building on recent progress
While admitting that some of the differences between the two sides were not likely to simply fade away, the two leaders sought to highlight progress made in recent months.
"We are confident that we can continue to build on the excellent discussions that we had in London,” Obama said, adding: “And that on a whole host of issues - including security issues, economic issues, energy issues, environmental issues - that the United States and Russia have more in common than they have differences.”
The two countries have agreed to set up a joint commission on some of these issues. More notably, military cooperation, which suffered in the aftermath of the Russia-Georgia conflict last August, is to recommence.
Obama said if the two sides were to continue to hard work in the next few days, they could make “extraordinary progress that would benefit the people of both countries." Echoing those sentiments, Medvedev said not just their two countries but the rest of the world too would gain from better US-Russian relations.
North Korea continues its provocative actions
The US President also said that he and Medvedev shared concerns over nuclear proliferation and related developments in countries like North Korea and Iran.
He said that the two sides had taken “important steps forward to strengthen our security through greater cooperation," adding that he and his Russian counterpart agreed on the “need to combat the threat of violent extremism, particularly from Al-Qaeda".
In an important sign of growing security cooperation, Moscow has agreed to allow US military planes to fly over Russian territory to Afghanistan, which in Obama's words, is a “substantial contribution” that will save the US “time and resources” in its Afghanistan mission.
Medvedev said he saw clear progress in talks with the US on missile defence as the Obama administration was prepared to listen to Russian concerns. He described Monday's summit as a “first but very important step” toward revitalizing relations between the former Cold War foes.
Obama says the US is keen on talking to both Russian leaders
Despite positive talk on both sides, even President Medvedev admitted to the existence of some serious glitches. US plans to install a missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic which the previous Bush administration said was aimed at countering threats from so-called “rogue states” like Iran. However, Moscow is opposed to the plan and has urged Obama to abandon it.
Just last week, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin urged Washington to drop plans for a missile defence shield. It's a topic that's bound to figure prominently when Obama meets Putin on Tuesday.
Editor: Chuck Penfold