Pushing reset button won’t be easy for Obama, Russia

The Obama administration wants to push the reset button on its relationship with Russia, but that may be tough given significant disagreements over policy.

Festering disputes over missile defense and Russia’s war last year with Georgia won’t be resolved at the Monday’s summit between President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, foreign policy experts have said over the past few days.

They predict a meeting whether the two sides will smile at one another while trying to push serious disputes to the side for the time being.

Andrew Kuchins, a director of the bipartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies, said low expectations should be the rule for the summit partly because Medvedev isn’t Russia’s real leader.

While Kuchins lauded the idea of forging better relations between the countries, he said Medvedev lacks the authority to effect change.

“We should have no illusions about who is the decision maker in Moscow, and that is Vladimir Putin,” he said. “Everything that Mr. Medvedev agrees to is approved by his mentor-master, Vladimir Putin.”

Fostering better relations with Putin, the Russian prime minister and former president, could prove difficult for Obama, who is scheduled to meet with Putin during the trip.

Renewal of the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and Iranian nuclear armament concerns are key issues on the table, but disagreements over the United States' missile defense plans in Europe and a deeply entrenched hostility between the two countries could loom over the proceedings.

Russian leaders have fiercely condemned the plan, fostered under the Bush administration, to build American missile defense sites in Europe. Yet Obama has given no outward indication that he will curtail or heavily overhaul the plan.

Obama’s administration is reviewing missile defense policy. Missile defense installments in Europe are necessary, American proponents say, to counter threats from Iran and North Korea.

On Georgia, Samuel Charap, a fellow at the Center for American Progress, predicts the two sides will “agree to disagree” while calling for restraint.

A successor to the START treaty, set to expire in December, is a less contentious issue. Reducing both nations' arsenal of strategic weapons is expected to be a prime focus of the meeting.

Andrew Grotto, national security analyst for the liberal Center for American Progress, spoke positively about the prospect of the countries reaching an agreement on a new treaty.

“Arms control is the one area in the bilateral relationship where the two countries not only have enduring common interests but literally decades of experience with each other,” he said this week during a conference call with reporters.

But any new agreement could be a long time coming.

The amount of work involved in arms negotiations is far greater than anything that could be initiated at the summit, said James Carafano, a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

“The sensible diplomatic thing would be to just shake hands and say, 'Oh, we’re making tremendous progress,’” he said.

Efforts to address environmental concerns and reach agreements for U.S. military cargo to move through Russian territory are also planned.