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Published: Friday, 6/25/2010

Russian relations restored, U.S. says

BLADE NEWS SERVICES

WASHINGTON - President Obama declared Thursday that he and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have "succeeded in resetting" the relationship between the former Cold War adversaries that had dipped to a dangerous low in recent years.

Mr. Obama acknowledged differences in some areas, such as Moscow's tensions with neighboring Georgia, but said "we addressed those differences candidly." He said the United States and Russia had agreed to expand cooperation on intelligence and the counterterror fight and worked on strengthening economic ties between the nations.

"Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, the U.S.-Russian relationship has to be about more than just security and arms control," Mr. Obama said at a joint news conference. "It has to be about our shared prosperity, and what we can build together."

The actual achievements on the economic front were modest.

The United States promised to redouble its efforts to help Russia join the World Trade Organization, agreeing to try to complete years of talks by September. Russia said it would lift barriers to the multibillion-dollar importation of American chicken. And they agreed to promote collaboration on clean-energy technologies.

More than anything, the events surrounding Mr. Medvedev's visit served to underscore both the personal rapport the two men have developed and, more broadly, the increased cooperation between the countries after years of tension that reached a low point in August, 2008, when Russia went to war with Georgia, its smaller neighbor and a U.S. ally.

At the news conference in the East Room of the White House, both presidents acknowledged that they had discussed their continuing differences over Georgia. Through an interpreter, Mr. Medvedev described the war as "the conflict that was initiated by Georgia's leadership."

Mostly, however, they emphasized common ground, with Mr. Obama saying he and Mr. Medvedev had "excellent discussions, discussions that would have been unlikely just 17 months ago," when the countries' relationship "had drifted perhaps to its lowest point since the Cold War."

After a morning of White House meetings, the presidents went to Ray's Hell Burger, a popular spot in a Virginia suburb for cheeseburgers and fries.

Customers cheered when the two walked in.

Later, at the news conference, Mr. Medvedev called the burgers "probably ... not quite healthy, but it's very tasty."

Mr. Medvedev smiled widely throughout the news conference. He joked that the Americans' hospitality was so complete "even the weather is so warm." And he recalled a recent phone conversation with Mr. Obama that lasted an hour and 45 minutes, adding, "The ear starts getting stiff."

Afterward, despite a temperature of 100 degrees, the two men slung their suit jackets over their shoulders and walked from the White House across Lafayette Park to the headquarters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. There, they attended a conference with U.S. and Russian business leaders who are involved in major trade and investment deals in aerospace, automotives, finance, and technology, among other fields.

The meeting was the presidents' seventh since Mr. Obama took office 17 months ago. His invitation to Mr. Medvedev to come to the White House reciprocated for Mr. Obama's visit to Moscow in July.

They initially met for nearly an hour yesterday, joined by a few advisers from both sides, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. A meeting with an expanded group followed; it included Vice President Joe Biden, Gen. James L. Jones, Mr. Obama's national security adviser, and several economic advisers.

The participation of each president's economic advisers reflected what Obama Administration officials have called a new phase in the "reset" of the relationship between the United States and Russia that Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have sought since the strains of the Bush years.

Having made progress with Russia on a range of security issues in recent months - including a new treaty that further reduces each country's nuclear arsenal, sanctions resolutions in the United Nations against Iran and North Korea, and cooperation on counterterrorism efforts - Mr. Obama is turning more fully to the issues of trade and business cooperation, which frustrated his recent predecessors. The previous efforts foundered in part as U.S. businesses encountered corruption and other white-collar crime in Russia as well as the government's often arbitrary actions against businesses.



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