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Obama, Medvedev pledge new era of relations

Published on 02/04/2009

London — Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev promised Wednesday a new era in relations between the United States and Russia and made a milestone bid to agree far-reaching nuclear arms cuts.

After holding their first face-to-face meeting in London ahead of the G20 summit, the leaders issued a joint statement saying the "era when our countries viewed each other as enemies is long over."

Obama and Medvedev also stepped up the pressure on Iran over its nuclear program as they cited many areas of common interest between Russia and the United States.

Obama, whose talks with the Russian leader were part of a flurry of meetings which represent his first big steps on the world stage since taking office in January, said he would pay a first official visit to Russia in July.

At the centerpiece of the compact between the former Cold War rivals will be an attempt to agree large cuts in strategic nuclear weapons and a symbolic drive to work for a nuclear-free world.

"The presidents decided to begin bilateral intergovernmental negotiations to work out a new, comprehensive, legally binding agreement on reducing and limiting strategic offensive arms to replace the START Treaty," the leaders said in the statement.

Obama and Medvedev also said that they had agreed on the long-term goal of a "nuclear free" world.

The Cold War-era Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) signed between the United States and the Soviet Union expires in December 2009 and Washington and Moscow have been seeking to thrash out terms of a new accord.

The 1991 treaty limits the number of missiles and warheads that each side may have and is a cornerstone of Cold War strategic arms control.

Medvedev issued an upbeat verdict on the talks.

"After this meeting I look at the future of our relations with optimism," he said.

The presidents also took aim at another area of tension between the two sides, the proposed US missile defence scheme in Europe, which Russia opposes and the Obama administration has signaled it may put on the back-burner to ease Moscow’s fears.

"While acknowledging that differences remain over the purposes of deployment of missile defence assets in Europe, we discussed new possibilities for mutual international cooperation in the field of missile defense," the leaders said.

Washington has been keen to secure more robust Russian support in the diplomatic effort to convince Iran to halt its nuclear program.

In their statement, the leaders recognised Iran had a right to a "civilian nuclear program" but added Tehran must do more to convince the world of the initiative’s "exclusively peaceful nature."

"We call on Iran to fully implement the relevant UN Security Council and the IAEA Board of Governors resolutions including provision of required cooperation with the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency)," they said.

Earlier, after talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Obama said he was looking forward to his meeting with Medvedev, at Winfield House, the official residence of the US ambassador to London.

"What we’ve seen over the last several years is drift in the US-Russian relationship," Obama told reporters.

"There are very real differences between the United States and Russia, and I have no interest in papering those over.

"But there are also a broad set of common interests that we can pursue."Both countries, I believe, have an interest in reducing nuclear stockpiles and promoting nuclear nonproliferation."

Obama had previously said that he wanted to "reset" US relations with Russia, soured during the former Bush administration over missile defense, NATO expansion and the Russian war in Georgia last year.

Stephen Collinson/AFP/Expatica