Obama, Russia's Medvedev agree to keep working on missile defense

McClatchy NewspapersMay 26, 2011 

DEAUVILLE, France — President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev vowed Thursday to keep trying to find a way to build a missile defense system in Europe that doesn't antagonize Russia.

"We committed to working together so that we can find an approach and configuration that is consistent with the security needs of both countries, that maintains the strategic balance and deals with potential threats that we both share," Obama said at the end of a one-on-one meeting with Medvedev on the sidelines of a G-8 summit in this seaside resort town.

Medvedev stressed that his personal relationship with Obama is good, and that the two countries agree on many issues, most notably the recent New START treaty on nuclear warheads and Russia's request to join the World Trade Organization.

But he said bluntly that a U.S. missile defense system in Europe was a "quite sensitive" issue that might remain unresolved long after each of them left office.

"I have told my counterpart, Barack Obama, that this issue will be finally solved in the future, like, for example, in the year 2020," he said. "But we, at present, might lay the foundation for other politicians' activities. And this would be a sound foundation for cooperation between our two countries in the future. We will, of course, pursue this track, but political impetus (is) necessary."

Their body language suggested that they think it will be difficult to find a solution that's satisfying to the U.S., Europe and Russia, which sees any missile defense in Central Europe as aimed at it, not at rogue nations such as Iran as the U.S. claims. As the two leaders spoke briefly to reporters after their meeting, each stared ahead without looking at the other.

The issue is challenging for Obama, who set out at the start of his term to "reset" relations with Russia after they grew frosty under President George W. Bush, not least because of Bush's insistence on building a Europe-based missile defense system. As part of Obama's "reset" campaign, he abruptly pulled the development of some of the missile shield apparatus from Poland, undercutting local politicians who'd approved the installations despite political opposition.

After the two-day G-8 summit, Obama will head to Poland to meet with leaders from across Central Europe, to assure them that the U.S. will defend them against any foe. The president reportedly plans to announce that the U.S. will redeploy as many as 16 U.S. F-16s from an air base in Aviano, Italy, to a base in Poland.

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McClatchy Newspapers 2011

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