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CIS: Russia, Obama clinch deals to revive ties

By Anna Smolchenko and Laurent Lozano
Tue Jul 7 03:38:49 EST 2009

MOSCOW, July 5 AFP - US and Russian leaders Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev have announced agreements on nuclear arms cuts and Afghanistan as they seek a new era in battered relations.

The two sides issued a joint declaration on replacing a key disarmament treaty, including figures for reductions in nuclear warheads, and clinched a breakthrough deal for US military transit for Afghanistan across Russia.

But as Obama made his first visit to Moscow as president they still remained at odds over US plans to install a missile defence shield in eastern Europe, an initiative that remains a major bone of contention.

The declaration signed by the presidents pledged to reach a new nuclear arms reduction pact to replace the 1991 START accord, the White House said.

"The presidents signed a joint understanding for a follow-on agreement to START that commits both parties to a legally binding treaty that will reduce nuclear weapons," the White House said in a statement.

The declaration also called for a reduction in the number of nuclear warheads in Russian and US strategic arsenals to between 1,500 and 1,675 within seven years.

"Each side will reduce its strategic offensive weapons in such a way that within seven years the maximum numbers of carriers would lie in the range of 500-1,100 and for the warheads within the range of 1,500-1,675," the declaration said.

The Afghanistan agreement means Russia has authorised the use of its airspace for the transit of US troops and arms for operations in the conflict-torn country.

The deal permits up to 4,500 military flights per year, or about 12 per day, which can be loaded with troops, firearms, ammunition, military vehicles and spare parts, a senior US official said.

The official said military flights would not be charged air navigation fees and that they would not stop on Russian territory.

Previously Russia had only allowed the United States to ship non-lethal military supplies across its territory by train.

The two sides also signed an agreement to resume bilateral military cooperation suspended last August over the war in Georgia.

Both sides have repeatedly used the slogan of pressing "the reset button" to lift a relationship that sank to a post-Cold War low under the presidency of George W Bush amid a series of rows capped by the Georgia conflict.

"We hope... all our bilateral discussions we will close a number of difficult pages in the history of US-Russian relations and open a new page," Medvedev told Obama at the start of their talks in the Kremlin.

Obama added: "If we work hard during these next few days then we will make extraordinary progress that will benefit the people of both countries."

But the US plan to install missile defence facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic - which Russia says threatens its security - remained a major sticking point.

"We have not yet agreed on the assessment of what would be the consequences of certain decisions of the US administration. We still have questions concerning the missile defence shield," Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said, according to ITAR-TASS news agency.

"The discussions on missile defence are procceding with great difficulty because the approaches are very different," he added.

But Obama's visit, which will also include meetings with opposition figures and a keynote speech to a progressive economics university, was never expected to be completely smooth.

The US president showed he was unafraid of blunt talk on Russia when he said in an interview that Medvedev's predecessor, strongman Prime Minister Vladimir Putin still had "one foot" in the past.

The remark set off 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.

Obama 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.

He described as "odd" Russia's decision to launch a second trial against jailed Russian billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a comment hardly likely to gladden his hosts.