Tuesday, July 7, 2009

US Military Flights Over Russia

MOSCOW, July 6: Russia agreed on Monday to let the United States fly troops and weapons across its territory to Afghanistan, a move hailed by Washington as a valuable contribution towards helping US forces fighting the Taliban.

The agreement, signed after a summit in the Kremlin between US President Barack Obama and Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev, allows 4,500 US military flights annually over Russia at no extra charge, a US official said.

A joint declaration also announced agreements on nuclear arms cuts and on replacing a key disarmament treaty, including figures for reduction in nuclear warheads to between 1,500 and 1,675 within seven years.

“This agreement will enable the United States to further diversify the crucial transportation routes used to move troops and critical equipment to re-supply international forces in Afghanistan,” the White House said in a statement about Mr Obama’s first visit to Moscow as president. “By providing access to these transit routes, the Russian Federation is enabling a substantial increase in the efficiency of our common effort to defeat the forces of violent extremism in Afghanistan and to ensure Afghanistan’s and the broader region’s security,” the statement said.

The new transit routes are important for the US as existing troop supply routes through Pakistan have been attacked by militants.

The agreement will be valid for one year with unlimited automatic extensions if both sides agree, a US official said, adding the pact required ratification by the Russian parliament.

Mr Obama and Mr Medvedev outlined other areas in which they said their countries would work together to help stabilise Afghanistan, including increasing assistance to the Afghan army and police, and training counter-narcotics personnel. A joint statement said that they welcomed increased international support for upcoming Afghan elections and that they were prepared to help Afghanistan and Pakistan work together against the “common threats of terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking”.

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