US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have pledged to agree on cuts in their countries’ nuclear arsenals by December as part of a “fresh start” in US-Russian relations and a step toward “a nuclear free world.”
The first meeting between the two men, on the eve of the G20 summit in London, led to a dramatic improvement in the tone of the relationship and agreement on arms control that could lead to the two countries’ strategic arsenals being cut by a third. Obama also accepted an invitation to visit Moscow in July, by which time both sides hope negotiators will have worked out the framework of the arms control treaty. Officials were told to start work immediately.
A joint statement said: “The era when our countries viewed each other as enemies is long over.”
Both sides were effusive about the 70-minute session at Winfield House, the US Ambassador’s residence in London.
“After this meeting, I am far more optimistic about the successful development of our relations,” Medvedev said afterwards.
Obama said there had been “great progress.”
Later, a senior US official described the nuclear pledge as “a very significant breakthrough.”
There were no specific figures on arms cuts but the leaders agreed the deal would go further than the Moscow treaty, which their predecessors, former US president George W. Bush and former Russian president Vladimir Putin, signed in 2002.
That treaty stipulates operationally deployed (ready to fire) arsenals of 1,700 to 2,200 warheads, suggesting the goal of the new treaty would be to go below 1,700. Officials on both sides said 1,500 warheads was a realistic target, representing a more than 30 percent cut in their current arsenals.
Any new deal is likely to be stricter than the Moscow treaty, which did not apply to non-operational stockpiles, so each side could comply by mothballing warheads rather than destroying them. There were also no verification mechanisms. The new deal would be modeled on other more rigorous agreements, officials said.
Obama’s aides said the meeting was not simply a “get-to-know-you” encounter, of the sort Bush favored, but had been prepared with months of substantive negotiations.
“We don’t do drive-by summits,” a senior US official said.