Obama: Russia is 'equal partner' in arms reduction effort

President Obama said Monday he was "optimistic" that the United States would be able to bring the country back into the Cooperative Threat Reduction program after Russia broke ties with the program after nearly two decades of involvement 

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"We have to sustain the partnerships we have, and that includes Russia," Obama said Monday during a speech at the National Defense University in Washington. 

The CTR program, drafted by Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) and then-Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) in 1991, was designed to help Russia secure and dismantle its vast nuclear, chemical and biological weapon stockpiles after the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

While Moscow had indicated its desire to amend the terms of the bilateral deal, its decision in October to abandon the effort entirely came as a surprise to many in Washington, including Lugar, who is the current ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

"At no time did officials indicate that, at this stage of negotiation, they were intent on ending it, only amending it," Lugar said at the time. 

The president acknowledged Russia's desire to rework the CTR agreement on Monday, indicating the White House was open to making those changes. 

"Russia has said that our current agreement hasn’t kept pace with the changing relationship between our countries. To which we say, let’s update it," Obama said. 

"Let’s work with Russia as an equal partner. Let’s continue the work that’s so important to the security of both our countries ... I’m optimistic that we can," the president added. 

The Obama administration has come under fire by House Republicans over its relations with Russia, claiming the White House has been too quick to bow down to pressure from Moscow on issues of defense and national security. 

Congressional Republicans in May chastised Obama for saying to then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have "more flexibility" on European missile defense after the 2012 election. The remark was caught by a microphone the leaders didn't know was live.

It drew a wave of criticism from Republicans, who said Obama was allowing American missile defense policy to be determined by the whims of Moscow.

At the time, Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) claimed the comment was an indication the White House was forging an alleged "secret deal" with Russia on its plans for a European missile shield.

Russia has strenuously opposed the Obama administration's plans to field a massive network of land- and sea-based ballistic missile interceptors to defend against potential long-range missile threats from Iran by 2020.

Moscow claims the missile shield could easily be used to take out Russian-operated missile systems stationed in the region.