Tackling the Summit in Moscow

Hoping to revive the cooperative spirit of the early 1990s, Americans are coming to Russia to end a decade of mistrust.

President Barack Obama is expected in Moscow next week to discuss a wide range of issues with his counterpart Dmitry Medvedev and personally press the "reset" button on U.S.-Russia relations.

Hopes for a breakthrough are running high. Both sides have been unhappy about how low relations sank during the Putin-Bush era. Now, the two young presidents need to prove that cooperation on global issues is more than just words.

"Russia could be a partner, a country that would collaborate and make for better prospects for Obama's policies in both places, in Afghanistan and Iran," Dmitry Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center told CBS News. "Again, there is nothing more serious, nothing more important at this point for the administration than this."

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
(Left: President Barack Obama meeting with Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev at Winfield House in London, April 1, 2009, during the G-20 Conference.)

Also on the table is the workhorse of U.S.-Russia diplomacy: the strategic arms reduction treaty, signed 18 years ago by George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev.

Known as START I, the agreement became the largest and most complex arms control treaty in history. It expires this December, and both Moscow and Washington have been scrambling to put together a replacement. The new treaty may dramatically reduce the number of nuclear warheads to around 1,500 for each side.

But reaching an accord with Russia, even in such a tried-and-true sphere as nuclear disarmament, may well prove to be a tall order for President Obama.

The American president is coming to a country which has lost its superpower status, but not its superpower ambitions. The Kremlin realizes that its nuclear arsenal is its main military trump card and is hardly willing to weaken it.

Besides, Moscow has made it clear that it will sign a new treaty only if America abandons plans to build a missile defense shield in central Europe. That program has been the main thorn in Moscow's side ever since it was proposed by the Bush administration in 2007.

"I would like to emphasize that weapons reductions are possible only if the United States addresses Russian concerns," said President Dmitry Medvedev. "In any event, the problem of the relationship of strategic offensive and defensive weapons should be clearly laid out in the treaty."

Moscow is also displeased with how the U.S. disposes of its nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles, and may ask for commitments that President Obama will find hard to make.

"Russia wants very strong guarantees that the United States cannot quickly rearm itself and have a nuclear potential that will be several times bigger than Russia," military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer told CBS News.

At the same time, neither Moscow nor Washington can allow the summit to fail; too much political capital has already been invested.

"If there is a window of opportunity to launch a breakthrough in the relationship, the time is now, and I don't think that we'll see such an opportunity in many years to come if we miss this window," said Andrei Kortunov, President of the New Eurasia Foundation.

With the end of START I only months away, there is hope that a new start will be more than just a treaty, that it will signify the beginning of a new era in relations between two former foes.

Watch video of Alexsei Kuznetsov's report below.

  • Alexsei Kuznetzov

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