Obama, Medvedev to sign declaration on treaty
MOSCOW (Reuters) - The United States and Russia will commit to new talks on reducing their nuclear arsenals when Barack Obama meets President Dmitry Medvedev for the first time next month, the Kremlin said on Saturday.
The two leaders will also sign a document on U.S.-Russian relations in general at a meeting in London, and seek to coordinate policies on Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan, Sergei Prikhodko, an aide to President Dmitry Medvedev, told reporters.
"We will seek to agree on the terms and timeframe for working on an agreement to replace the START treaty so that at our next meeting we can reach our first concrete agreements and conclude all of our work by year's end," Prikhodko said.
Russian officials have said that finding agreement on a successor to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START 1), which is due to expire in December 2009, is a priority in relations with the new U.S. administration.
The START Treaty, signed in July 1991 by U.S. President George Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, led to the largest bilateral reductions of nuclear weapons in history.
It was the result of nearly a decade of talks between the United States and the Soviet Union in the final years of the Cold War. At the time of agreement, the United States had developed more sophisticated ways to deliver warheads, but the Soviet Union had a larger arsenal of weapons.
The Obama administration has pledged to "reset" ties with Russia after they reached post-Cold War lows under former President George W. Bush.
"A shared understanding is now taking shape that bilateral relations are getting a second chance that must not be missed. We are confident that London will be an important milestone along that path," Prikhodko said.
Defense issues will take center stage, he said, adding that particular attention will be paid to nuclear non-proliferation. "North Korea and Iran are special issues, particularly in the context of Obama's announced plan to meet with Tehran on political-diplomatic terms."
Prikhodko also pointed to a range of opportunities the U.S. and Russia have for cooperation in Afghanistan, including in the transportation of supplies to the country, its social and economic development, and the training of Afghan troops.
"Expanding cooperation on Afghanistan is a major theme. There is potential for joint action that has not been fully utilized," Prikhodko said.
He added, however, that Russia took a sober view of the issues dividing Moscow and Washington, especially U.S. plans to install a missile defense system in Eastern Europe.
Medvedev will lay out Russia's concerns over this plan during the one-hour meeting, Prikhodko said.
"We fully understand the differences that divide us and harbor no illusions that they will be easily overcome," he said. "The theme (of missile defense) is far from closed and the options for agreeing an alternative course of action have not been exhausted at all."
Medvedev and Obama have spoken on the phone and exchanged letters since Obama's inauguration on January 20 but this is to be their first official meeting as presidents.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier this month for talks that were intended to soften the atmosphere before the presidents meet in London on the sidelines of the Group of 20 Summit.
Diplomatic relations between Moscow and Washington have fallen to their lowest since the Cold War in the past 12 months over Russia's war with Georgia and the planned U.S. anti-missile system.
Another sticking point has been Russian military sales and nuclear cooperation with U.S. foe Iran.
(Reporting by Simon Shuster; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
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