Obama and Medvedev Reach Tentative Agreement on Nukes

A day after talks seemed in doubt, President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a preliminary agreement that if ultimately approved would dramatically reduce each country's stockpile of nuclear weapons. The agreement, which must ultimately be approved by Congress, would replace an arms control treaty set to expire this December. What Obama and Medvedev signed today specifically instructions negotiators as they work toward a final agreement, but White House officials acknowledged its hardly a done deal. The so-called "joint understanding" commits the U.S. and Russia to reduce their strategic warheads to a range of 1,500 to 1,675 weapons, down from a limit of 2,200 set by George W. Bush and Vladamir Putin in a treaty set to take effect in 2012. Today's tentative deal would also limit so-called delivery vehicles to a range between 500 and 1,000—down from the Bush/Putin treaty that would limit those to 1,600. The two leaders also agreed on what the White House described as a verification system that will "enhance the security" of both countries. "As the world's two leading nuclear powers, the United States and Russia must lead by example," Obama told reporters at a Kremlin news conference. "And that's what we're doing here today." But there remain a few sticking points, including debate over the U.S.'s missile defense shield. The issue came up in negotiations today—Medvedev called it a "difficult area of our discussion"—but in the end, the two leaders essentially put it aside, agreeing in a joint statement to continue talks later. At the presser, Obama delivered an impassioned defense of the shield, insisting that its goal was to protect against weapons from Iran or North Korea not Russia."There's no scenario from our perspective in which this missile defense system would provide any protection against a mighty Russian arsenal," he said. Obama also acknowledged a "frank discussion" on Georgia—though both presidents agreed that further military conflict was in no one's interest. The two leaders also inked a deal allowing the U.S. to fly its troops through Russia in route to Afghanistan. Under the agreement Russia will waive so-called aviation "navigation" fees, saving the U.S. at least $1.3 million a year.