Obama, Medvedev Edge Closer On Missile Defence

The presidents of Russia and the USA appear to have achieved progress over missile defence, an issue with a direct impact on transatlantic relations, the international press reported.

On his two-day official visit to Moscow, US President Barack Obama appears to have made headway with his host Dmitry Medvedev in the long-standing dispute over US missile defence plans, as the two leaders agreed to work together to assess threats posed by countries such as Iran and North Korea. They also agreed to explore cooperation in missile defence and intensify talks on establishing a joint centre for early detection of hostile launches.

While most other agreements were worked out by negotiators ahead of the summit, Obama and Medvedev reached the deal on missile defence themselves, said Michael McFaul, a senior Russia specialist in the Obama administration, quoted by the Boston Globe.

Until the meeting, the Russians had refused to accept any statement on missile defence cooperation unless the United States also renounced plans to deploy the system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Obama said he had told Medvedev that US officials were still completing a review of missile defence options in Europe and would brief Russia on its conclusions "as soon as that review is complete," which he indicated should be before the end of the summer.

Aides said talk of Iran and missile defence dominated the nearly four-hour meeting Obama held with Medvedev.

Independent analysts called the arms agreement a modest but significant first step. The agreement appears to carry political weight, they said, as Russia was obsessed with US missile defence plans in Central Europe, blowing out of all proportion the consequences of a project that it vehemently opposed.

Obama_MedvedevObama and Medvedev also reached a preliminary agreement to cut the American and Russian nuclear arsenals by as much as a third. Russia and the USA together hold 90% of the world's nuclear arsenal.

The agreement, which lays out a clear yet difficult path to replace the 1991 landmark START arms control treaty that expires in December, was the most significant among those signed at the summit.

The two leaders also signed pacts allowing the transit of US military personnel and weapons through Russia to Afghanistan, restoring military-to-military ties, and pledging cooperation to limit the spread of nuclear materials.

In his election campaign, US President Barack Obama had been cool on a deal reached by his predecessor, George W. Bush, to put a radar in the Czech Republic and interceptor rockets in Poland to shoot down missiles fired by countries like Iran or North Korea.

In the Czech Republic, the radar issue has taken on a very specific dimension. In the Czech Senate, lawmakers have warned that they will be unable to move on ratifying the Lisbon Treaty without the accompanying ratification of an agreement with the US to install the radar system .

A ballistic missile launch by North Korea while Obama was on his first visit to Prague on 5 April has apparently changed the US position. Obama stated in Prague that he now wants the Central Europe-based missile defence shield to be built .

North Korea now appears to have a weapon that can reach US territory, allowing it to directly threaten its main adversary for the first time, analysts said.

The missile, known as the Taepodong-2, has a crude multi-stage design and poor guidance system and takes weeks to prepare for launch. US spy satellites can easily monitor preparations and it should be relatively easy to destroy long before launch in future, if that option is taken.

North Korea, which tested a nuclear device in 2006, is not yet able to miniaturise an atomic weapon to mount on a warhead, experts have said.