US and Russian officials have reportedly reached an agreement for a declaration on nuclear weapons cuts, as US President Barack Obama lands in Moscow for a summit aimed to reviving relations strained by recent crises.
AFP - US and Russian officials reportedly hammered out a last-minute agreement Monday for a declaration on nuclear weapons cuts, set to be a centrepiece of US President Barack Obama's visit to Moscow.
The declaration, setting out a framework for replacing a key disarmament treaty, is expected to be a major part of a summit aimed at reviving relations hurt by a series of recent crises between the Cold War ex-foes.
Making his first visit to Russia as president, Obama was to arrive at 1:20 pm (0920 GMT) and lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier before heading into talks with President Dmitry Medvedev in the Kremlin.
The Interfax news agency reported early Monday that the two sides had agreed a final text on their framework document on the replacement of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), to be signed by the two presidents.
"The text of the document has been agreed," Interfax quoted a source in the Russian foreign ministry as saying.
Just one day earlier, the news agency reported that negotiators had still not agreed the framework document on replacing START, a 1991 treaty imposing strict limits on nuclear arms, which expires in December.
Officials have stressed the two sides are still some distance from a new treaty and that the declaration will set guidelines for negotiators to complete their work by the year's end and, possibly, numerical targets for arms cuts.
"There certainly won't be an agreement on the end deal... but I think you will see an announcement that indicates some progress toward reaching that objective," White House arms control specialist Gary Samore said Sunday.
Both sides have repeatedly used the slogan of pressing "the reset button" to lift a relationship that sunk to a post-Cold War low under the presidency of George W. Bush amid a series of rows capped by Russia's war with Georgia.
But Obama's two-day visit -- which will also include meetings with opposition figures and a keynote speech to an economics university -- is not expected to be completely smooth.
The US president showed he was unafraid of blunt talking on Russia when he said in a pre-visit interview that Medvedev's predecessor and strongman Prime Minister Vladimir Putin still had "one foot" in the past.
That remark set off frenzied speculation in the Russian press Obama was seeking to strengthen the youthful Medvedev over Putin. Obama is due to meet Putin for breakfast on Tuesday.
He also gave an interview to the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, a publication that has been a constant thorn in the Kremlin's side and was the employer of the murdered Putin critic Anna Politkovskaya.
In that interview he described as "odd" the Russian judiciary's decision to launch a second trial against jailed Russian billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a comment hardly likely to gladden his hosts.
A major potential sticking point in talks could be a US plan to install missile defence facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic, an initiative Russia says threatens its security.
"A complete reset and partnership is being blocked by disagreements on the main questions," said the Kommersant daily.
The Russian edition of Newsweek said Washington was particularly irked by Moscow's dismissal of the political crisis in Iran as an internal matter and its decision to apply for WTO membership as a regional trade bloc.
"It doesn't smell like a reset. Nothing has remained of the great expectations of the Moscow summit," Newsweek wrote.
"Ahead into the future or back to the USSR?" asked the opposition New Times.
Nevertheless, US officials also expect a major boost for their operations in Afghanistan with an agreement for the United States to transport military supplies across Russian territory.
Previously, Washington has only been allowed by Moscow to transport non-lethal supplies by rail. The new deal should allow the United States to transport military supplies across Russia by air.
The US president, accompanied by his wife Michelle and two daughters, is to stay at a luxury apartment in the Ritz Carlton hotel just a stone's throw from the Kremlin.
Obama will be hoping for a smoother reception than on a 2005 visit to Russia when a coordination mix-up resulted in the then-senator and his colleague Richard Lugar being detained for three hours at the airport in the Urals city of Perm.
Date created : 2009-07-06