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Obama Opens Russia Summit, Confident of Progress

Monday, 06 Jul 2009 08:37 AM

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MOSCOW -- President Barack Obama opened his first Moscow summit with confidence on Monday, predicting "extraordinary progress" out of meetings set to test his diplomatic skills on important priorities such as nuclear arsenal reductions and the fight in Afghanistan.

"The United States and Russia have more in common than they have differences," Obama said he sat down in an ornate Kremlin room with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

With both men showing signs they are eager to reset damaged relations, Obama's host launched the high-stakes summit with similar good will.

"We'll have a full-fledged discussion of our relations between our two countries, closing some of the pages of the past and opening some of the pages of the future," Medvedev said, through a translator.

The first U.S.-Russia summit since the early part of the George W. Bush presidency finds Russia home to a wary public, a two-headed leadership and lingering hard feelings toward America.

The foundation set now could affect how much cooperation Obama gets in areas in which the U.S. needs Russia's help _ chiefly in pressuring Iran and North Korea to give up their nuclear weapons ambitions, but also in tackling terrorism, global warming and the economy.

Agreements negotiated ahead of time gave Obama something to take home even before the summit started, including another step toward the world's two largest nuclear powers reducing their arsenals. Russia's deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said, according to Russia's ITAR-Tass news agency, that the document Obama and Medvedev will sign is concise and won't contain details of a new treaty but nonetheless amounts to a "road map" for a future deal.

The START arms control agreement expires in December and the two nations are working toward a replacement pact. The eventual deal could cut warheads from more than 2,000 each to as low as 1,500 apiece.

The leaders also were announcing Russia's agreement to let the United States use its territory and air space to move arms into Afghanistan for the forces fighting extremists there.

Other side agreements meant to sweeten the talks included a new joint commission to try to account for missing service members of both countries dating back to World War II and fresh cooperation on public health issues.

Yet, the two sides remain stalemated over the U.S. pursuit of a missile-defense system in Europe, pushed hard by Bush and under review by Obama. Both sides hardened their positions ahead of the summit.

The U.S. contends the program is designed to protect U.S. allies in Europe from a potential nuclear attack by Iran. But the Russians see it as a first step toward a system that could weaken their offensive nuclear strike potential.

The summit starts a weeklong trip for Obama that also features G-8 meetings and a visit with the pope in Italy, and a speech in Ghana.

After Obama landed in Moscow under drizzly gray skies, he introduced his wife, Michelle, and their two daughters to the Russian officials waiting to greet them on the tarmac. The entourage then headed to a wreath-laying ceremony at Russia's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

While in Moscow, Obama will devote a prominent amount of time to leaders of Russia's civil society. Having enjoyed adoring crowds in Europe, Obama will face a fare more skeptical Russian population.

Just 15 percent of Russians say the U.S. is playing a positive role in the world; most said the United States abuses it power and makes Russia do what the U.S. wants, according to the University of Maryland's WorldPublicOpinion.org out Sunday.

"I would like to see America meddle less in other countries," said Valentina Titova, a 60-year-old retired economist strolling not far from the Kremlin.

Obama will outline his vision for U.S.-Russian relations at a speech at the New Economic School. It is unclear how many people will see it. Russian leaders control the television outlets.

As Obama told a Russian-language news channel in the days before the summit: "We want to build relations where we deal as equals."

Yet he also caused a stir in Russia by telling The Associated Press last week that Medvedev's predecessor and mentor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, has to learn that "the old Cold War approaches to U.S.-Russian relations is outdated."

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