MOSCOW - While the US president ends his keynote visit to Moscow and arrives in Italy for the G-8 summit, his two-day meeting yields no stunning progress as the two ex-Cold War enemies remain at odds on various disputed issues. After the Russia trip, he joins fellow world leaders for the G-8 meet where the global crisis, climate change and world hunger top agenda.
He also left behind a spark he hopes will blaze to life and thaw U.S. relations with a former superpower with a chip on its shoulder. But his two days of summitry produced no unexpected breakthroughs. Throughout the meetings and speeches, Obama stayed on message: The United States and Russia have too many overlapping interests to move through the coming decades at odds. The time for confrontational Cold War thinking is well-past. America wants Russia to be "strong, peaceful and prosperous."
He told the graduating class at Moscow's New Economic School that the United States and Russia were not "destined to be antagonists," but he predicted - nevertheless - hard bargaining as the two nations work to overcome a long history of estrangement.
"It is difficult to forge a lasting partnership between former adversaries. But I believe on the fundamental issues that will shape this century, Americans and Russians share common interests that form a basis for cooperation," he said.
On several issues key to Obama foreign policy, the Russians were unbending, at least for now. While they agreed to join the U.S. in reassessing the threat from Iran's nuclear ambitions, there was no hoped-for Kremlin offer of direct intervention with Tehran. On the flash point issue of Georgia, where the Russian army crushed the tiny country's military a year ago, the Kremlin rejected U.S. complaints about Russian insistence that the breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions remain free of Georgian control. Moscow, meantime, remained angry over the U.S. refusal to back away from support for Georgia's hopes to join NATO.
After his breakfast meeting with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Obama told Fox News Channel "on areas where we disagree, like Georgia, I don't anticipate a meeting of the minds anytime soon."
Discord over disputed issues
Nor did there appear to have been progress in the dispute over arms control. While preparing a START I replacement treaty that would cut nuclear arsenals by about one-third, Moscow and Washington remained fundamentally at odds over U.S. plans for creating a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. U.S. officials discount Russian complaints about American intentions. But Moscow was still saying the two issues must be linked or a final agreement on cutting nuclear warheads and delivery systems could be in jeopardy. Washington insists missile defense is designed to protect U.S. allies against a potential nuclear attack by Iran. The Russians say such a system would put them at a disadvantage by unbalancing offensive nuclear parity.
In a briefing on the last day of the Obama visit, his top adviser on Russian affairs, Michael McFaul, dared reporters to find a past U.S.-Soviet summit where the two sides had dealt with so many matters of substance. "We hit all of the dimensions of the U.S.-Russian relationship. ... That's a good start to what now begins the harder process of building this relationship in a more sustained way," McFaul said.
Meanwhile, Obama headed to Italy on Wednesday and joined fellow world leaders for talks on threats to global security and stability at G-8 summit where climate change, the global economic crisis, nuclear proliferation and world hunger took top billing.
Obama and the leaders of seven other industrialized nations had meetings in the picturesque town of L'Aquila, northeast of Rome, before they were to widen their circle to include fast-growing countries like China and India and struggling nations from Africa as Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review went to press on Wednesday. In large and small groups, the talks will involve trade, climate change, Iran's nuclear ambitions, food security and other issues.
Obama, accompanied by his wife Michelle, met Italian President Giorgio Napolitano after arriving at the stately Quirinale Palace in Rome, a spectacular setting that included a large room with a soaring ceiling, gilded walls and doors and huge chandeliers.
After that meeting, Obama said he was looking forward to the G-8 talks and praised his Italian hosts for being "such good friends" of the United States over the years.
He said the two countries "are working hand in hand in places like Afghanistan to ensure that we're isolating extremists and strengthening the forces of moderation around the world."
Obama also said he and Napolitano agreed that efforts must continue on "raising standards on financial institutions" to protect against future global economic meltdowns.
He also said it is crucial that world leaders work to ensure that Iran and North Korea don't "take a path" that would widen the arms race on the Korean peninsula and in the Mideast. Topping the list of G-8 discussions are talks on slowing the release of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.