Obama: U.S., Russia ‘not destined’ to be rivals

July 7th, 2009 by

MOSCOW – President Barack Obama, working to drastically reshape U.S. relations with a skeptical Russia, said Tuesday the two countries are not “destined to be antagonists.”

“The pursuit of power is no longer a zero-sum game,” Obama said, speaking in the Russian capital to graduates of the New Economic School but also hoping to reach the whole nation. “Progress must be shared.”

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 said.

Obama’s upbeat comments 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 Tuesday, 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.

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. U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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.

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