MOSCOW - President Barack Obama, opening a visit to Russia intended to mend strained relations, said on Monday he was confident of extraordinary progress if both sides worked hard together during his trip.
Officials and business leaders promised a host of deals covering arms control, Afghanistan, military cooperation and new investment during two days of scheduled talks in Moscow.
We are confident that we can continue to build on the excellent discussions that we had in London, Obama told President Dmitry Medvedev at the start of talks in the Kremlin, referring to the first meeting the two leaders had in April.
And that on a whole host of issues ... the United States and Russia have more in common than they have differences and that if we work hard in these next few days we can make extraordinary progress...
Medvedev, smiling broadly as he welcomed Obama in the Green Parlour of the Kremlin, said he hoped that as a result of our conversations ... we will close a number of difficult pages in Russian-American relations and turn a new page.
A U.S. official told Reuters an agreed text of an outline deal on cutting Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals would be put to Obama and Medvedev when they met.
Earlier Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov greeted Obama, his wife Michelle and their two daughters as they stepped from Air Force One at Moscow's Vnukovo airport under unseasonably cold, cloudy skies.
The arrival was not shown live on Russian television and there was generally little sign in Moscow of the Obamamania which has greeted the U.S. leader on some other foreign trips.
Obama's motorcade sped alone along a barricaded highway from the airport toward the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for a wreath-laying ceremony. On the city's outskirts, small groups of onlookers smiled and waved but most looked on without reaction.
Business leaders traveling with Obama want to use the visit to boost trade and investment. Russian trade with the United States was just $36 billion in 2008, the same amount as with Poland, and investment has lagged that of European competitors.
We hope that President Medvedev will be able to follow through on his continuous campaign to improve the rule of law, Andrew Somers, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, told Reuters in an interview.
I think this is a single biggest inhibitor to investment by U.S. companies, their concern about the rule of law.
Obama will also listen to the country's embattled democratic opposition, meet former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and make a major speech to Russian students.
But he faces a harder task in trying to achieve his avowed aim of a reset in relations between Washington and Moscow.
GEORGIA WAR HURT TIES
Ties hit their worst level since the 1990s last year after Russia sent troops into neighbouring Georgia, a U.S. ally, triggering fierce condemnation from Washington.
Medvedev has said he is moderately optimistic about Obama's visit but the two sides are still deeply divided over U.S. plans to set up an anti-missile system in central Europe, something Russia says threatens its security.
The two nations have not yet come to an agreement on such fundamental issues as Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization, Georgia and U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense system in Europe.
A poll released on the eve of Obama's arrival showed Russian distrust of the United States. The University of Maryland survey found 75 percent of Russians believed the United States abused its greater power and only two percent had a lot of confidence Obama would do the right thing in world affairs.
Medvedev, in an interview released on Sunday, said the United States would only get a full arms control treaty with Moscow if it dropped unilateral plans for missile defense -- a linkage which Obama has rejected.
The U.S. leader also faces an awkward first meeting on Tuesday with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Russia's most powerful politician, after publicly criticizing him last week. Putin was out of Moscow on Monday visiting a combine harvest factory in southern Russia.
In an indication of the strained atmosphere, Russia's Kremlin-controlled main television channels -- the chief source of news for most Russians -- have played down Obama's visit.
This is being played as essentially a low-key visit that shows the American leadership's respect for the Russian leadership, Dmitry Trenin, head of the Moscow Carnegie Center think-tank, said. This is not some star coming to town.
The Other Russia and Solidarity opposition movements announced plans for a protest in central Moscow on Monday evening to coincide with Obama's visit. Gay rights groups said they had canceled a planned demonstration outside the U.S. embassy after the authorities refused to give permission.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Guy Faulconbridge, Dmitry Sergeyev and Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Richard Balmforth)