Obama, Medvedev at odds on US missile shield, Iran’s nuclear drive, Middle East

US president Barack Obama and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev were of one mind in one key sphere, the need to continue the war on al Qaeda and the Taliban. This concurrence produced on Day One of Obama’s first official visit to Moscow an accord allowing the United States to fly troops and weapons to Afghanistan through Russian skies. This opened an important supply corridor for US forces in Afghanistan, the first of its kind since World War II. Most other key issues were either left in dispute or as unfinished business for joint teams to fill in the gaps, such as the preliminary memorandum under which the US and Russia aim to cut their nuclear warhead arsenals by 1,500-1,675 items each over seven years.
debkafile‘s Moscow sources do not expect a breakthrough on any of the outstanding issues at the breakfast meeting Tuesday, July 7, between Obama and prime minister Vladimir Putin.
The four issues on which the Washington and Moscow remain divided are:
1. The US missile interceptors and radar station for Poland and the Czech Republic. This remains a Russian sine qua non for cooperation in other fields.
In answer to a question at his joint news conference Monday, July 6, with Medvedev, Obama said that “defensive as well as offensive systems were a priority for the United States,” but offered to review alternatives and expected to reach an understanding with Moscow after “extensive negotiations.”
2. As part of the Kremlin’s opposition to NATO’s expansion, Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, are still obstacles to the relations “reset,” which the US president promised to bring about in his two day summits in Moscow.
The Russians view the declarations of independence by breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia as an accomplished fact; since the Georgia war last summer, have been busy building big military bases in both disputed provinces. The United States views them as integral parts of sovereign Georgia.
This gap was not bridged in Obama’s meeting with Medvedev.
3. While Moscow is more concerned by Iran’s nuclear plans than it was before, it still maintains that there is no proof that Iran is working on a military program and deserves to be deterred by stiffer sanctions.
While Russian president did not mention Tehran, the US president voiced deep concern about Iran developing nuclear weapons “because this will trigger a nuclear race in the most volatile part of the world, the Middle East.” He added: “It is also possible that nuclear weapons will fall into the hands of non-state actors, extremists, posing a danger to both Russia and the US.”
According to our Moscow sources, before the US president arrived, the Kremlin had began to suspect that vice president Joseph Biden’s assertion Sunday, July 5 – that the US would not stand in Israel’s way if it decided to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities – was a device to extract Moscow’s cooperation on harsh sanctions, otherwise Israel might well attack. Such a scenario would jeopardize the Russian-built atomic reactor in southern Iran, the pride of Russia’s nuclear industry.
But in the conversation between the two presidents, there was no sign that Russian side felt threatened on the Iran issue.
4. In Middle East peacemaking, Moscow wants parity with Washington, which the Obama administration is not willing to concede.
All in all, there is still a long way to go and several arduous negotiating track to pursue before the United States and Russia can be said to be on the road to true detente. The Kremlin is unlikely to show much flexibility until Obama gives way on the missile shield in East Europe.

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