In the face of what promised to be a blistering “reset” rebuke from Vladimir Putin, the White House tried to push Russia’s pet projects and leave stinging criticism of the Kremlin’s relationships with nefarious regimes to the side at today’s G-20 meeting.
President Obama’s meeting with President Putin in Los Cabos, Mexico, was the first time they’d even seen each other for three years and the first meeting between the pair since Obama was caught in an embarrassing and damaging off-mic soundbite telling then-President Dmitry Medvedev that Putin could be assured he’d have more “flexibility” on missile defense after the U.S. presidential election.
“Today we had a very meaningful and subject-oriented discussion. We’ve been able to discuss issues pertaining to security. We discussed bilateral economic relations,” Putin said first in a brief joint appearance before the media.
“We also discussed international affairs, including the Syrian affair,” the Russian leader continued. “From my perspective, we’ve been able to find many commonalities pertaining to all of those issues. And we’ll now further develop our contacts both on a personal level and on the level of our experts involved.”
Obama, speaking far longer than his counterpart, used his time to stress how well reset has gone: part bilateral meeting, part campaign stump.
“Over the last three years, the United States and Russia have been able to make significant progress on a wide range of issues, including the New START Treaty, the 1,2,3 Agreement, the work we’ve done on Russia’s accession to the WTO, and setting up a presidential process whereby issues of trade and commerce, science, technology are all discussed at a much more intensive level,” Obama said.
“We agreed that we need to build on these successes, even as we recognize that there are going to be areas of disagreement, and that we can find constructive ways to manage through any bilateral tensions,” he added.
Obama mentioned Syria last — not of Russia selling attack helicopters to Bashar al-Assad, but of the need to work together with “international actors” like the U.N. to try to cease the violence.
The White House pool reporter noted that the atmosphere in the room was “not cheerful.”
“President Putin was sitting comfortably, leaning back, face motionless. No smile,” the report said. “President Obama was sitting next to him but facing mostly the interpreter. Very few smiles.”
Asked if the meeting, which began half an hour late, was important for the Russians, a Russian diplomat said: “Yes, but even more for the Americans.”
The two countries issued an unusually lengthy joint statement shortly after the meeting about their “commitment to strengthening close and cooperative relations for the benefit of the peoples of our countries, international peace, global prosperity, and security.”
The first item listed was the “expansion of trade and investment relations,” specifically Russia’s bid to join the World Trade Organization and the Obama administration’s push for Congress “to terminate, as soon as possible, application of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment with respect to Russia and extend Permanent Normal Trade Relations to the Russian Federation.”
The statement then gushed about Obama’s pet project of nuclear nonproliferation. “We recognize the achievements made through the Nuclear Security Summits, including the removal and elimination of nuclear materials, minimization of the civilian use of highly enriched uranium, and worldwide improvements in a nuclear security culture,” it states.
“As a priority, we intend to successfully implement the New START Treaty, and to continue our discussions on strategic stability. Despite differences in assessments, we have agreed to continue a joint search for solutions to challenges in the field of missile defense.”
It mentioned Iran’s nuclear programs as talks concurrently began today in Moscow with the P5+1 — talks where Tehran is holding firm on its demands — and stresses that “our common goal remains a comprehensive negotiated settlement based on the principles of a step-by-step approach and reciprocity.”
Then before a long section about counterterrorism and drug trafficking comes the carefully worded statement on Syria: ”In order to stop the bloodshed in Syria, we call for an immediate cessation of all violence and express full support for the efforts of UN/League of Arab States Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan, including moving forward on political transition to a democratic, pluralistic political system that would be implemented by the Syrians themselves in the framework of Syria’s sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity. We are united in the belief that the Syrian people should have the opportunity to independently and democratically choose their own future.”