President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had met at the G20 summit in Seoul, South Korea, focusing on the global economy. But they expanded their talks at the APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit in Yokohama, Japan, which provided an additional opportunity to delve into important bilateral issues.
On one issue of particular concern right now, finalizing the New START treaty to reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles by as much as one third, Mr. Obama said he reiterated his determination to get the job done.
The two men also discussed efforts at the upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal, aimed at improving Russia's relations with the alliance.
"I reiterated my commitment to get the START treaty done during the lame duck session and I have communicated to Congress that it is a top priority. We also discussed the fact that President Medvedev is personally going to be attending the NATO summit in Lisbon and it allows us to restart the NATO-Russia Council and a host of consultations, so that we can reduce tensions and increase cooperation on various security matters in the European theater," said Obama.
The U.S. and Russia signed the New START treaty earlier this year after the previous agreement expired last year, but ratification has been held up in the U.S. Senate.
A senior administration official told reporters that the treaty will be President Obama's top foreign policy priority when Congress returns to session this week. The official said the administration is undertaking what he called a full court press [taking all measures] with key U.S. senators to ensure ratification.
The two men also discussed transit of supplies for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, with Mr. Obama thanking President Medvedev for Russian cooperation. Other topics included the situation in Sudan, Middle East peace efforts, and Lebanon.
On another issue, President Medvedev said the two sides had seriously moved forward on the issue of Russia's desire to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). The senior U.S. official said all bilateral issues relating to Russian WTO membership have now been settled.
Speaking through an interpreter, President Medvedev also focused on the upcoming NATO summit and the improvement of relations with the alliance, but mentioned one of the irritants in the U.S.-Russia relationship, the U.S. missile defense plan for Europe.
"We are discussing a whole range of issues, including the so-called European ABM (Anti Ballistic Missile). We have exchanged views as to what could be done here and we have agreed to give instructions to our aides and ministers to pursue this work further. The summit will certainly discuss this matter too."
On the global economy, the subject of the just-concluded G20 summit in Seoul, Mr. Medvedev said he wished President Obama success working on the recovery of the U.S. economy, saying he knows Mr. Obama is working on this 24 hours a day.
A senior administration official said President Obama also raised democracy and human rights issues with the Russian leader, with Mr. Obama saying he was pleased with a strong statement by Mr. Medvedev condemning the beating of a Russian journalist.
President Obama and President Medvedev will have another opportunity to meet next week. The Russian leader will pay a visit to the White House before both men go to Lisbon for the NATO summit.