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US, Russia Focus on Military Issues

U.S. President Barack Obama met with his Russian counterpart Dmitri Medvedev on Monday as part of a U.S. effort to "reset" the relationship between their two countries. Speaking at a news conference following several hours of talks in the Kremlin, both leaders focused considerable attention on military issues - particularly nuclear arms reduction. Our correspondent takes a closer look at some of the military topics raised on the first day of Mr. Obama's visit to the Russian capital.

President Medvedev told a Kremlin news conference that the world is changing for the worse with the emergence of powers who dream of acquiring nuclear weapons.

Mr. Medvedev said there are regions where the presence of nuclear weapons can create colossal problems. He specifically mentioned the Middle East and the Korean peninsula as potential nuclear threats. For this reason, the Russian leader said his country should cooperate as closely as possible with the United States.

The U.S. and Russian presidents set a target to reduce their countries' nuclear arsenals to between 1,500 and 1,675 warheads each within seven years. The number of missile launchers is to be reduced to between 500 and 1,100 for each country.

President Obama said both countries will sign a new Strategic Arms Reduction agreement by the time the current START treaty expires in December.

"We've taken important steps forward to increase security and to stop the spread of nuclear weapons," said President Obama. "This starts with the reduction of our own nuclear arsenals. The world's two leading nuclear powers must lead by example."

But Independent Russian military analyst Alexander Konovalov is skeptical about the significance of a new START treaty. He says it makes little difference if Russia has 2,000 nuclear weapons and the United States has 1,000 or vice versa. Konovalov notes that either number of nuclear weapons is sufficient to deter potential threats.

Konovalov says nuclear deterrence needs to be reassessed along with issues of weapons parity and the balance of forces. He says a balance between American and Russian interests is more important.

President Obama expressed appreciation for a Kremlin agreement to allow the transport of U.S. weapons across Russian territory for the NATO effort in Afghanistan.

President Medvedev said that without U.S.-Russian cooperation, there is little likelihood of success against threats emanating from Afghanistan, which include terrorism and drug trafficking.

Analyst Alexander Konovalov says the agreement is a breakthrough.

Konovalov says it demonstrates an understanding that Russia and the United States face common threats. He notes that the agreement allows for a large number of flights, ground transports and all types of cargo.

President Obama sought to allay Russian concerns about a proposed U.S. missile defense system in Central Europe, announcing that both sides would conduct a joint assessment of threats posed by Iran and North Korea. Nonetheless, both sides remain at odds over the system.

Another independent analyst in Moscow, Pavel Felgenhauer, says most of the agreements between Presidents Obama and Medvedev are symbolic gestures designed to create a positive atmosphere in the hopes of solving more difficult problems later. Felgenhauer says such problems include tensions in Georgia, and Russian missile sales to Syria and Iran.

Felgenhauer says it remains to be seen how long the positive U.S.-Russia atmosphere will lasts - a few weeks, months, or, hopefully, a few years.

The United States and Russia also reached agreement to create a commission that will seek to determine the fate of their servicemen and women missing in World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Cold War and Afghanistan.

President Obama said that too often in the past, Russia and the United States have communicated on a narrow range of issues or allowed old habits in their bureaucracies to stand in the way of progress. For this reason, he announced the creation of a bilateral presidential commission that will work on issues such as the economy, energy, the environment, nuclear energy, arms control, international security, defense, foreign policy and counterterrorism.