US, Russia agree to reduce nuclear arsenal


London : US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev agreed Wednesday to draw up a new deal on nuclear disarmament, when they met in London ahead of Thursday’s summit of Group of 20 (G20) leading world economies.

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Both presidents pledged to “move further along the path of reducing and limiting strategic offensive arms,” in a joint statement issued after their first meeting since Obama’s inauguration.

The US president further accepted an invitation to visit Moscow in July, to assess progress towards the new deal that would replace a US-Russian strategic weapons reduction programme which expires at the end of 2009.

Under the START programme, in place since 1994, the two countries have already agreed to a strategic arsenal of no more than 6,000 warheads and 1,600 carrier missiles.

Wednesday’s joint statement emphasized a commitment to build on the START programme, which had “completely fulfilled its intended purpose,” as well as further scaling back nuclear stockpiles held by Russia and the US.

The new deal would aim to “mutually enhance the security” of Russia and the US, according to the agreement signed by both parties.

Ahead of Wednesday’s talks, Obama had acknowledged “years of drift” in relations between Washington and Moscow. He said cooperation over nuclear reduction was a “good place to start” in forging closer ties.

Speaking imminently before his meeting with the Russian president, Obama had made no attempt to hide that the two powers didn’t always see eye to eye.

“There are real differences between the US and Russia, and I have no interest in papering those over,” the US president told a press conference.

A burning issue for the Obama administration is to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Russia plays a key role here, as the main supplier of technology and nuclear material which, Iran says, is purely for civil purposes.

Russia is at odds with the US over Washington’s plans to install a missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic, under a programme initiated by former president George W. Bush.

Other issues straining the relationship include US support for NATO to expand eastwards, notably the question of eventual membership of the trans-Atlantic alliance for Ukraine and Georgia.

Ahead of the meeting, Medvedev had repeated China’s call to reevaluate the dollar as reserve currency. Obama, on the other hand, had rejected China’s call to replace the dollar with a global reserve currency.

“We should also think together of whether it might be expedient to introduce a world supranational reserve currency, potentially under the aegis of the International Monetary Fund,” Medvedev told the Washington Post.

Despite these differences, Obama said Wednesday that there was also a lot of common ground between the two former Cold War superpowers, including fighting terrorism and boosting economic growth.

The US and Russia are both keen to rebuild relations that soured towards the end of the Bush administration, plummeting to a low point during Russia’s military intervention in Georgia in August last year.

Obama has defined nuclear disarmament as one of the key objectives for his presidency, while Russia recently suggested moving beyond current nuclear cutback commitments, in a meeting between the two countries’ foreign ministers.

Senior US administration officials said Wednesday’s meeting between the two presidents had pushed the talks forward, and that a series of milestones in coming months would pave the way to July’s Moscow summit.