Obama gets mixed results in Russia

MOSCOW — For two days, President Barack Obama pressed the reset button with Russia.

The results: He ended up getting the expected agreement on deep cuts in nuclear arsenals, but he is leaving Moscow with few assurances of Kremlin help in solving other issues key to his foreign policy agenda.

Obama called Tuesday for a new relationship between the U.S. and Russia, saying that the frequent rivals would both prosper by joining forces to combat common threats and pursue their mutual interests.

“There is the 20th-century view that the United States and Russia are destined to be antagonists and that a strong Russia or a strong America can only assert themselves in opposition to one another,” Obama said in a speech to graduates at Moscow’s New Economic School. “And there is a 19th-century view that we are destined to vie for spheres of influence and that great powers must forge competing blocs to balance one another. These assumptions are wrong.”

After his breakfast meeting Tuesday with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Obama said “on areas where we disagree, like Georgia, I don’t anticipate a meeting of the minds anytime soon.”

On several issues key to Obama foreign policy, the Russians were unbending, at least for now.

  • While they agreed to join the U.S. in reassessing the threat from Iran’s nuclear ambitions, there was no hoped-for Kremlin offer of direct intervention with Tehran. The Russians make significant profits from arms sales to Iran and the construction a nuclear complex for electricity generation.

    On the flash point issue of Georgia, where the Russian army crushed the tiny country’s military a year ago, the Kremlin rejected U.S. complaints about Russian insistence that breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia remain free of Georgian control. Moscow, meantime, remained angry over U.S. refusal to back away from support for Georgia’s hopes to join NATO.

    While preparing a START I replacement treaty that would cut nuclear arsenals by about one-third, Moscow and Washington remained fundamentally at odds over U.S. plans for creating a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. Moscow was still saying the two issues must be linked or a final agreement on cutting nuclear arms could be in jeopardy. Washington insists missile defense is designed to protect U.S. allies against a potential nuclear attack by Iran. The Russians say such a system would put them at a disadvantage by unbalancing offensive nuclear parity.

    The two sides did agree to far greater cooperation on Afghanistan, where Obama is bolstering U.S. troop strength in the fight against Taliban militants and other al-Qaida allied groups. Part of the deal will allow the U.S. to fly, without transit charges, American troops, weapons and other lethal war material across Russian territory.

    This morning, Obama heads to a G-8 summit in Italy. While there he will meet Pope Benedict XVI before moving on to Ghana, where he plans to deliver what the White House describes as a major foreign policy speech.

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