DEAUVILLE, France (AP) — President Barack Obama said Thursday the U.S. and Russia are committed to finding an approach that meets the security needs of both countries on the contentious issue of American plans to build a missile defense shield in Central and Eastern Europe.
The United States says its missile defense plans are aimed at countering emerging threats from countries including Iran and North Korea, but Russia views the moves as possible encroachment.
For his part Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the future of missile defense would be solved by future politicians — perhaps in the year 2020 — but that he and Obama can help lay the foundation now.
Meeting on the sidelines of an economic summit in France, the leaders agreed missile defense is a sensitive issue and suggested it remains so in their relationship.
While they agreed to work on it, they showed no signs of reaching an understanding.
Obama wore a stern look when the men spoke to reporters.
Medvedev has warned that failure to cooperate with Moscow on the shield could spark a new arms race.
The issue has increasingly been an irritant as the two leaders have worked to improve relations between their countries.
Medvedev said that maintaining a strategic balance of forces is important to the relationship.
He said that goal was helped by the New START Treaty, ratified late last year by the U.S. Senate, which reduces the number of strategic warheads each country can possess.
After their one-on-one meeting, Obama and Medvedev walked the short distance to the site of the Group of Eight summit of industrial nations to meet the host, French President Nicholas Sarkozy. Along the way, Obama stopped to shake hands with onlookers held behind metal barricades, many of whom wore blue plastic ponchos under the overcast and threatening skies at this seaside resort.
Obama planned to use the summit that got under way Thursday to work with leading economies on ways to support fledgling democratic transitions in Tunisia and Egypt, while also creating incentives to encourage other countries in the region to pursue greater political freedoms.
The summit comes on the heels of Obama's sweeping address at London's Westminster Hall Wednesday, where he cast the U.S., Britain and other like-minded allies in Europe as the world's "greatest catalysts for global action."
He will echo a similar theme in his discussions with G-8 partners on the recent Arab uprisings and argue that the political protesters in the Middle East and North Africa share their democratic values.
Obama will also hold one-on-one meetings with Sarkozy and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan.
Obama's meeting with Kan will be the first between the two leaders since the March earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan that sparked fears of a nuclear meltdown at the damaged Fukushima plant.
The G-8 comprises the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Russia and Japan. The European Union is also represented.
Interim prime ministers from Tunisia and Egypt, where longtime leaders were pushed out of power earlier this year, will join the summit Friday for a special session aimed at identifying their nations' most critical needs as they move toward elections.
Representatives from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund will give G-8 leaders an assessment of what it will take to modernize and stabilize the Tunisian and Egyptian economies.
Obama has called on the G-8 to do more than just offer aid and assistance; he wants leading industrial nations to focus on boosting long-term investment in the region and increasing trade.
U.S. officials have said other Arab countries that embark on democratic transitions could also receive financial help.
In a letter to G-8 leaders Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner urged the summit partners to help Egypt swap its debt for investments in job creation.
While the U.S. is holding up Tunisia and Egypt as the most successful models to emerge from the Arab unrest thus far, both face significant obstacles on their paths toward democracy.
Tunisia has imposed periodic curfews and detained about 1,400 people in continued protests, and in Egypt, sectarian violence has broken out, with Muslims and Coptic Christians clashing in the streets.
Obama will also face questions at the summit about the NATO-led bombing campaign in Libya.
Obama said Wednesday that the operation has no clear end date, though he contended it ultimately would be successful in stopping Moammar Gadhafi's attacks on civilians.
Also likely to be discussed are the U.S. troop drawdown plan in Afghanistan, Obama's renewed push for Middle East peace and the continued steps the world's leading economies are taking to recover from the global downturn.
After the summit wraps up Friday afternoon, Obama was to travel to Poland, the last stop on a four-country, six-day tour of Europe that began Monday in Ireland.
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