Obama: US and Russia not destined to be adversaries

Author: Associated Press

Obama used his speech to further define his view of the United States’ place
in the world and, specifically, to argue that his country shares compelling
interests with Russia.

“Let me be clear: America wants a strong, peaceful and prosperous Russia,” he
declared.

His upbeat comments at the New Economic School came on the second day of his
summit in Russia, where polls show people are wary of the United States and
taking a skeptical measure of Obama himself. Earlier today, Obama held
private breakfast talks with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at Putin’s
country home outside Moscow. The atmosphere seemed cordial, and both voiced
hope for improved relations between Washington and Moscow.

Before leaving for Russia, Obama said Putin “has one foot in the old ways of
doing business and one foot in the new.” But after his meeting with the
Russian leader, a senior administration official said Obama is “very
convinced that the prime minister is a man of today and he’s got his eyes
firmly on the future.”

The official, who spoke on the condition of anomynity in order to discuss the
private details of the meeting, said Obama and Putin shared concerns about
terrorism and nuclear proliferation. The official said they “formed the
basis for a good relation.”

In his speech, Obama said the interests of Russia and the United States
generally coincide in five key areas: halting the spread of nuclear weapons,
confronting violent extremists, ensuring economic prosperity, advancing the
rights of people and fostering cooperation without jeopardizing sovereignty.

But he also sprinkled in challenges to Russia on its own soil, particularly in
the area of democracy. US officials are wary of Russia’s increasingly
hard-line stand on dissent.

“By no means is America perfect,” Obama said. But he also said: “Independent
media have exposed corruption at all levels of business and government.
Competitive elections allow us to change course. … If our democracy did
not advance those rights, I as a person of African ancestry wouldn’t be able
to address you as an American citizen, much less a president.”

Obama said the US will not try to impose any kind of government on another
country. But he argued for democratic values “because they are moral, and
also because they work.”

On Georgia and Ukraine ? two nations that have sought Nato membership to the
chagrin of neighboring Russia ? Obama tried a diplomatic touch. He defended
the steps nations must take to join the alliance, adding, “Nato seeks
collaboration with Russia, not confrontation.”

The speech was not widely televised in Russia. It was carried live on 24-hour
news channel Vesti, but not on any of the main, more widely watched Russian
TV channels like First Channel, Rossiya, or NTV. And it was being broadcast
with translation on Vesti’s sister radio station, but not on the other two
main state radio broadcasters: Radio Rossiya or Radio Mayak.

Obama’s speech and meetings with Putin did lead the afternoon newscast on NTV,
owned by state-controlled natural gas monopoly, Gazprom, and it cast Obama
in a favorable light, showing he and Putin smiling and exchanging niceties
before taking breakfast outdoors.

The US and Russia have plenty of significant differences, but Obama suggested
one of the biggest problems is fixable: deeply rooted and harmful
assumptions from another era.

“There is the 20th century view that the United States and Russia are destined
to be antagonists, and that a strong Russia or a strong America can only
assert themselves in opposition to one another,” Obama said. He dismissed
that as inaccurate.

Obama said a genuine resetting of relations between the countries must go
beyond the governments and include a partnership between peoples.

On the economy, Obama prodded nations to follow the rule of law.

“People everywhere should have the right to do business or get an education
without paying a bribe,” he said. “That is not an American idea or a Russian
idea; that’s how people and countries will succeed in the 21st century.”

Obama’s meeting with Putin lasted two hours ? about 30 minutes longer than
planned. They met a day after Obama held talks with President Dmitry
Medvedev and they agreed that the two countries would seek by year’s end to
cut their nuclear stockpiles by up to a third. Obama told Putin he thought
he had had “excellent discussions” on Monday with Medvedev.

But Obama also said he recognises that “we may not agree on everything.”

Medvedev, Putin’s hand-picked successor, is the one getting the bulk of
Obama’s attention and negotiation time. All sides know Putin still holds
much power, too, but Obama sought yesterday to cast his meetings with both
men as simply reaching out to the whole government.

The Putin session started the second day of Obama’s Moscow mission. The goal:
Engage the Russian people and persuade them that their interests coincide
with those of Americans.

The challenge is more daunting in this country, where Obama is viewed with
much greater scepticism than elsewhere and where the Russian people are wary
of US power.

Obama hoped to change minds with a speech that White House aides had billed in
advance as a pillar of his foreign policy ? on the same level with his call
for a nuclear-free world while in Prague, or his outreach to the Muslim
world in a speech in Cairo.

The matter of democracy is closely watched because the US has watched warily
as Russia’s control on dissent and the press has only stiffened in recent
years. The country is considered one of the most dangerous places for
investigative journalists to work.

Obama also had what the White House characterised as a “good meeting” with
former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. He was to meet again with
Medvedev at the Kremlin; join Medvedev in taking part in a summit of US and
Russian business leaders; and was to meet a diverse collection of civil
society leaders from both countries ? health experts, environmentalists,
reporters, human rights advocates ? who will be holding their own summit to
re-engage bilateral cooperation.

In the late afternoon, Obama was to meet with Russian opposition leaders.

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