Obama, Medvedev Seek to 'Reset'

Article excerpt


NEW YORK -- President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have a new chance this week to reinforce their commonality as leaders who want to move beyond old prejudices, but both men face serious questions about the strength of their leadership on the world stage.

Mr. Obama received warm receptions abroad early in his presidency, but has yet to see that translate into concrete concessions from allies or competitors. At home, he is in the midst of an epic struggle to pass his health care reform package.

Mr. Medvedev, who at 44 is four years younger than his American counterpart, is still viewed by many as second fiddle to former president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, nearly 18 months into his presidency.

I would be upset if you didn't ask me this question. Our interview in this case would be considered as a failure, Mr. Medvedev joked when asked whether he or Mr. Putin runs the country during an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria on Sunday.

The two young, talented and still unproven world leaders will resume talks here in a one-on-one meeting Wednesday, with a range of issues that include nuclear arms cuts on the agenda.

Experts say there is great potential for Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev - both lawyers who have cultivated an image as reformers - to improve relations between their respective countries, which have a long history of distrust dating back to the days of the Cold War.

What helps drive this relationship is that neither of them is emotionally bogged down in the past, said Toby Gati, a former White House adviser on Russia to President Bill Clinton now with the law firm Akin Gump.

It's not a 'kumbaya' relationship by any means, she said. It's just a relationship more based on new international realities and an understanding that those realities are changing.

Charles A. Kupchan, a Russian expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, agreed that Obama and Medvedev do represent a new generation of leadership that may well try to put the past behind them. But he added that Mr. Medvedev in particular is fighting an uphill battle in trying to move the bureaucracy, the security elite and the Russian public toward a more pro-American stance.

If there's a party that's going to drag its foot on rapprochement, it's the Russians more than the Americans, Mr. Kupchan said.

When the two men met in Moscow last July, they talked for several hours longer than usual and Mr. Medvedev showed Mr. Obama his office desk where he records his monthly video blog. The Russian told the American that he had read Mr. Obama's Harvard Law Review articles when he was studying law.

By contrast, when Mr. Obama met with Mr. Putin the next day, the 56-year old former KGB agent greeted the American president with an hourlong lecture on the history of the Cold War, the very subject that Mr. Obama said he was not interested in discussing.

Mr. Putin's Cold War mindset, and his continued influence inside the Russian government, pose a significant challenge to Mr. Obama, who wants to reset the U.S.-Russia relationship. Changing the Washington-Moscow dynamic, for Mr. Obama, includes reaching a nuclear weapons treaty to replace the START agreement that expires in December, as well as gaining greater Russian cooperation on issues such Iran's nuclear programs.

So far, the Kremlin remains opposed, along with China, to imposing a new round of sanctions on Tehran, despite a report last week that the Iranians have the technical knowledge to make a nuclear bomb and are trying to acquire the ability to weaponize a nuclear device by putting it on a missile.

Russia has a lively business relationship with Iran and also does not want to inflame tensions with Islamic elements of its population in the Chechnya region. …