JIM LEHRER: President Obama moved to reset U.S. relations with Russia today. He journeyed to Moscow to push for progress on nuclear weapons and missile defense.
Judy Woodruff has our lead story report.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The president’s visit to Moscow marked the first U.S.- Russia summit in seven years. He began by laying a wreath at Russia’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Then, it was on to the Kremlin to meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
The pair emerged later to report they’re trying for a new era of goodwill after recent years of rocky relations.
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The president and I agreed that the relationship between Russia and the United States has suffered from a sense of drift. We resolved to reset U.S.-Russian relations so that we can cooperate more effectively in areas of common interest.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV, president of Russia (through translator): I view them as a first, but very important step in the process of improving full-scale cooperation between our two countries, which should go to the benefit of both states.
JUDY WOODRUFF: To that end, the leaders announced a joint understanding for a follow-on treaty to START, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. It’s due to expire this December.
The new goal is to cut strategic warheads to 1,500 to 1,675 on each side from the current maximum of 2,200. The two nations also committed to cutting delivery systems to 500 to 1,100 a side. Right now, the limit is 1,600.
President Medvedev said it is also important to work together on preventing other countries from gaining nuclear weapons.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV (through translator): There are regions around the world where the presence of nuclear arms would create huge problems, and these are areas where we should concentrate our efforts together with our American partners.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Medvedev did not directly name Iran, but Mr. Obama did when it came turn for his response.
Risk of nuclear arms race
BARACK OBAMA: In the Middle East, there is deep concern about Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons capability, not simply because of one country wanting nuclear weapons, but the fact that, if Iran obtained nuclear weapons, it is an almost -- it is almost certain that other countries in the region would then decide to pursue their own programs. And we would then see a nuclear arms race in perhaps the most volatile part of the world.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. has cited that threat as justification for placing a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, but Russia opposes any such plan, and there was no official resolution today.
BARACK OBAMA: The difference that we've had has been on the specifics of a missile defense system that the United States views as a priority not to deal with Russia, but to deal with a missile coming in from Iran or North Korea or some other state, and that it's important for the United States and its allies to have the capacity to prevent such a strike.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Medvedev called it a "difficult area," but he suggested there might be progress.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV (through translator): We talk about the linkage between offensive and defensive weapons, and this already constitutes a step forward. Sometime ago, on this question, we had all only differences. Now this linkage is being stated, and this opens up the opportunity of bringing positions closer to each other.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The Russians also agreed today to allow use of their airspace to transport U.S. troops and equipment to Afghanistan. Tomorrow, President Obama is scheduled to sit down with Vladimir Putin, Russia's former president and current prime minister.
Margaret Warner is covering the story for us in Moscow. I talked with her a little while ago.
Discussions over arms control
JUDY WOODRUFF: Margaret, hello. First of all, did the U.S. get what it wanted and expected on arms control?
MARGARET WARNER: Judy, they didn't get quite as low numbers as they'd hoped in terms of reducing long-range missiles and their launchers, but we're told that, as of late last week, they had no firm agreement on even announcing any targets and that President Obama talked to President Medvedev on the phone and that's how they even got these numbers, which are roughly about a 30 percent cut in missiles and -- no, I think that's 25 percent in missiles and 30 percent in launchers.
President Obama did come here with the White House hoping that in his one-on-one with President Medvedev he would be able to persuade President Medvedev to drop the numbers even lower; that did not happen.
But, all in all, I would say that the U.S. side is pleased with the commitment and pleased also with the relationship that seems to have developed in negotiations, and they stressed to us that the first START treaty took nine years to negotiate, so, really, that the progress they've made just in a few months is quite remarkable.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And what about on the Russian side? Did they get what they wanted on missile defense?
MARGARET WARNER: President Medvedev said he had agreement from President Obama that missile defense and missile offense are linked. President Obama said theoretically, yes, of course they are, but that when you're talking about this European defense system that the U.S. wants to try to set up in some fashion, that that is just way too modest to be of any threat to Russia's nuclear capability.
Apparently, in their one-on-one -- which went well over an hour, and, in fact, it went quite long, it went about an hour-and-a-half, longer than they expected -- it really focused on missile defense, which they agreed to do a threat assessment of the danger posed by missiles in the region, and, two, Iran, and that the two were totally linked.
And at one point, President Medvedev, though he never let the word "Iran" pass his lips at the press conference, did say, did speak about the concern of the growing missile threat in the region and the nuclear threat. And he talked about countries that want to join the nuclear club or, he said worse, are pursuing it clandestinely, which was a pretty clear reference to Iran.
Agreement over Afghanistan
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Margaret, the Afghanistan agreement. What do U.S. officials say is significant about that?
MARGARET WARNER: They are very pleased by this agreement. This agreement, Judy, will allow the U.S. to transport not just what they call lethal or military supplies into Afghanistan, which the Russians had already announced a couple days ago they were going to do, but troops. And that means that U.S. forces can fly from Germany into Afghanistan through Russian airspace.
What's more, I'm told by one of the president's aides, the Russians are going to really relax all their usual kind of bureaucratic paperwork requirements of knowing who's on the manifest and checking it out. I mean, they still will have the ability to do that on a case-by-case basis if they want to, but essentially they're going to be very accommodating about it.
Finally, they are actually going to pay these, quote, "navigation fees," which usually the U.S. would have to pay to -- I guess it's air traffic controllers on the ground. The Russians are actually going to absorb that cost.
The other thing that's significant about their cooperation on Afghanistan as it goes beyond the transit, they're talking about working together to build, you know, a more modern society -- that's the way President Medvedev describes it -- in Afghanistan. And President Obama, as you may know, did talk about perhaps the Russians can help in training the Afghan army or police.
So bottom line is, the Russians had gone from being obstacles at times, as they were earlier this year when they persuaded another former republic, Kyrgyzstan, to close its air base to the U.S., in the region and now are seeing themselves as cooperative partners in the Afghanistan effort.
Points of contention
JUDY WOODRUFF: But, quickly, there are still some sticking points between the two leaders on other issues?
MARGARET WARNER: Absolutely, and I think that that was conveyed by their tone. They talked about wanting to cooperate in a lot of things. They also talked about the fact that they still have major differences.
President Obama mentioned Georgia in particular. And they have agreed to disagree and to continue discussing that.
So I would say that, tone-wise, too, it was telling that, though President Obama said he certainly trusted President Medvedev to negotiate and stick to his agreements, there was none of the gushiness, there was no looking into anyone's soul and deciding that they can work together. They really emphasized that this is a businesslike relationship. Tone was cordial, but very businesslike, and these differences do remain.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, tell us what's on tap for tomorrow, the meeting with Putin?
MARGARET WARNER: Well, that's -- of course, everyone is awaiting that eagerly. President Obama and Prime Minister Putin, whom he slipped and called President Putin once today before catching himself, I'd say what's really important about the meeting with Prime Minister Putin tomorrow is that it will be the first chance for President Obama to take his measure of the man. They've never met before. And I think that, above all, that's the most important thing about that meeting.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Margaret Warner covering the summit for us in Moscow, thanks.
MARGARET WARNER: Thanks, Judy.