During their meeting on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Honolulu, Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama touted their past bilateral achievements while holding out for hope and change in the future.
Despite, or because of, the many issues still unresolved between Moscow and Washington, the elephant in the APEC room, so to speak, was the unspoken fact that Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama were experiencing what could very well be their last international meeting together as the leaders of their respective nations.
Next year, both Russia and the US will be hosting presidential elections. This gave the Medvedev-Obama meeting a bit of nostalgia as the two men applauded the achievements of their mutually-arranged “reset,” while expressing hope for the future.
Obama, lauding the landmarks of their bilateral co-operation, mentioned the signing of the New START Treaty, the stand against Iran and efforts to grant Russia membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO). Meanwhile, Medvedev noted that his work with the US administration over the past four years “was quite productive.” There remain, however, threats that could undo the achievements.
Presently, the international community is grappling with financial pandemonium plaguing the eurozone, the deepening Israeli-Iranian standoff and US intransigence over its controversial missile defense shield in Europe. Amid these challenges was the question of Russia’s long-sought membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO). Russia hopes this will be a done deal in the very near future.
Expressing his gratitude to Obama for promoting Russia’s membership in the international trade body, Medvedev said he hoped there would be no more surprises concerning Russia’s WTO bid.
“I told Obama that he’s the first American president who devoted the most energy to Russia’s WTO accession,” he said at the APEC business summit in Honolulu. “I hope that the next few weeks will not bring any surprises to us and Russia will finally join the club of countries united by the WTO."
Medvedev stressed that WTO accession will allow Russia to move beyond its status as an international energy provider as Russian companies are forced to compete on the international markets.
The Russian leader stressed that while Russia shares many of Europe’s traditions, it still is part of the Asia-Pacific community. He then mentioned plans to ultimately build a Eurasian Union, an idea first introduced by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, which is designed for economic and political integration of states that were once part of the Soviet Union.
"We see ourselves as sharing both European and Asian traditions," the Russian leader explained.
Meanwhile, Medvedev said Russia would take a wait-and-see approach to US plans to create a so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), made up of just four Pacific nations – Chile, New Zealand, Brunei and Singapore. Observers believe the new economic club is part of US efforts to hold back the rising tide of Chinese influence in the region.
"As for this Trans-Pacific Partnership, I don't understand what will be the result of this club,” Medvedev said. “So far it's a project; it's a kind of interesting project, undoubtedly. Well, we will wait and see what it will be like."
Although the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum (APEC) is often chided for its lack of direction and tangible results – a former Australian foreign minister called APEC “four adjectives in search of a noun” – it does provide a valuable opportunity for global leaders to chew the fat on pressing issues that are not directly economic in nature.
Speaking on the issue of US plans to build a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe, President Medvedev said that the differences between Russia and the United States remain “significant.”
"The positions of the United States and Russia on European missile defense are quite significant and far apart from each other at this point," Medvedev said after talks with his American counterpart. The Russian leader, however, remained optimistic that an agreement on the system would be reached.
"If we succeed in sustaining the same level of efforts that we have reached to resolve other matters, I am sure we will succeed in reaching an agreement," Medvedev said.
US plans to build a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe, just miles from the Russian border, remain a serious threat to the future of Russia-US relations, not to mention the long-term peace and security of Europe. Russia has said that the system, which is expected to grow both geographically and technologically, threatens to compromise its national security. Indeed, Russian military brass regularly warn of the risk of the country being “surrounded” by this technology in the not-so-distant future.
Meanwhile, the US and NATO have stubbornly refused Moscow’s demand that Russian scientists participate in the developmental and operational stages of the project. Without an agreement, Russia’s hand will certainly be forced in the matter. President Medvedev recently warned that another arms race could occur without an agreement on missile defense.
Yet another wedge that threatens to break relations between Moscow and Washington involves Iran, which some countries, notably the United States and Israel, say is attempting to acquire nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian nuclear energy program.
Tehran vehemently denies the accusations.
The standoff worsened last week following the release of a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that says Iran “appeared to have worked on developing an atomic bomb and that such research may continue.”
With memories of faulty intelligence work in Iraq still fresh in mind, Russia said it would not support any new sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
Moreover, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said last week that extra sanctions "will be seen in the international community as an instrument for regime change in Iran".
That approach is unacceptable, and the Russian side does not intend to consider such proposals, the Russian diplomat added.
Despite this setback, Obama attempted to downplay the rift, saying that Moscow and Washington would give a “common reply” to Iran in light of the charges.
Medvedev said the two leaders also discussed the deteriorating situation in Syria, as well as the Middle East crisis, which continues to be exacerbated by the construction of Jewish settlements in contested territories in the West Bank.
Obama also said the leaders thrashed out the problem of Afghanistan, where power is being transferred to the Afghan government “according to plan.”
Whether the US is hatching another “plan” to use US troops presently parked on battleships in the Persian Gulf against Iran in the event of an Israeli “preemptive strike” against the Islamic Republic remains to be seen.
The next APEC summit will be held next year in the Far East Russian port city of Vladivostok.