US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev held talks yesterday seeking to turn a new page in relations scarred by a series of disputes between the ex-Cold War foes.
A joint declaration on replacing a key disarmament treaty is expected to be a centerpiece of Obama’s two-day visit, along with a deal allowing US military supplies destined for Afghanistan to transit across Russia.
“We hope ... all our bilateral discussions 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 said: “If we work hard during these next few days then we will make extraordinary progress that will benefit the people of both countries. We are confident that, on a whole host of issues ... that the United States and Russia have more in common than they have differences.”
Making his first visit to Russia as president, Obama earlier stepped off Air Force One into an unseasonably cold Moscow accompanied by his two daughters and wife Michelle, whose pink dress offered little protection from the hostile weather.
In a bid to present a relaxed atmosphere, Medvedev quipped that the poor weather would encourage the two sides to stay indoors.
Later, the White House said the US and Russia had agreed to revive a joint commission that investigates the fate of prisoners of war (POW) and soldiers missing in action (MIA).
In an exchange of diplomatic notes, Washington and Moscow agreed a framework for the US-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs, the White House said in a statement .
“This exchange restores in full the important work of the Joint Commission and demonstrates the unwavering commitment both our countries have toward our servicemen and women,” it said.
It was not immediately clear why the commission, established in 1992, needed to be restored “in full.”
The statement said the commission would pursue its aims through four working groups devoted to four conflicts — World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Cold War, the last of which includes the Soviet war in Afghanistan.
The commission researches reports of US servicemen said to have been detained in the Soviet Union’s Gulag prison system, the Web site of the US Department of Defense.
Before the visit, 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 former US president George W. Bush.
Obama’s visit, which will also include meetings with opposition figures and a keynote speech to a progressive economics university, is not expected to be completely smooth.
The Interfax news agency reported that the two sides had at the last minute agreed the final text of a framework document on the replacement of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, to be signed by the two presidents.
Officials have stressed the two sides are still some distance from a new treaty and that the declaration would set guidelines for negotiators to complete their work by the end of the year and, possibly, numerical targets for cuts.