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Obama to Russia: stop Iranian nuclear weapon and US will scrap missile defence

Posted by Kris Roman on July 7, 2009

Tony Halpin in Moscow

President Obama today offered to scrap plans for a missile defence shield in Eastern Europe if Russia helped to stop Iran developing a nuclear bomb.
He appealed in Moscow for a new era of partnership between Russia and the United States to fight the spread of nuclear weapons to rogue states and terrorist groups.
“That is why we should be united in opposing North Korea’s efforts to become a nuclear power and preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” he said.

Russia strongly opposes US plans to site the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, which Washington says is necessary to defend against a surprise attack from Iran. Mr Obama made clear that he was willing to strike a deal with the Kremlin.
“I know Russia opposes the planned configuration for missile defence in Europe . . . I have made it clear that this system is directed at preventing a potential attack from Iran and has nothing to do with Russia,” Mr Obama said in a speech to students graduating from Moscow’s New Economic School.
“I want us to work together on a missile defence architecture that makes us all safer. But if the threat from Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes is eliminated, the driving force for missile defence in Europe will be eliminated. That is in our mutual interest.”
A failure to uphold agreements to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons would turn international law into “the law of the jungle”. The US and Russia had learnt to respect a “balance of terror” during the Cold War, but “we have to ask whether 10 or 20 or 50 nuclear-armed nations will protect their arsenals and refrain from using them”.
In a speech laced with compliments for Russian culture, and notably light on concerns over democracy and human rights abuses, Mr Obama said that America wanted “a strong, peaceful and prosperous Russia”.
He paid tribute to the “unimaginable hardship” suffered by the people of the Soviet Union in defeating Nazi Germany. Future threats required “global partnership and that partnership will be stronger if Russia occupies its rightful place as a great power”.
Mr Obama continued: “In 2009, a great power does not show strength by dominating or demonising other countries. The days when empires could treat sovereign states as pieces on a chess board are over.
“Any world order that tries to elevate one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. The pursuit of power is no longer a zero-sum game — progress must be shared. That is why I have called for a ‘reset’ in relations between the United States and Russia.”
Mr Obama stood up for Ukraine and Georgia against Russian efforts to prevent them seeking membership in Nato, saying that states “must have the right to borders that are secure and to their own foreign policies”.
“Any system that cedes those rights will lead to anarchy. That is why this principle must apply to all nations – including Georgia and Ukraine,” Mr Obama said. He stopped short of criticising Russia for recognising the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states after last August’s war with Georgia.
Mr Obama pulled his punches over the state of Russian democracy and individual freedom, disappointing liberal critics of the Kremlin. He made no direct criticism of Russia but instead declared that America had an interest in “democratic governments that protect the rights of their people”.
“The arc of history shows us that governments which serve their own people survive and thrive; governments which serve only their own power do not,” he said. “Governments that represent the will of their people are far less likely to descend into failed states, to terrorise their citizens, or to wage war on others.”
Mr Obama insisted that America “will not seek to impose any system of government on any other country, nor would we presume to choose which party or individual should run a country”. He admitted that the US had “not always done what we should have on that front”.
“I will work tirelessly to protect America’s security and advance our interests. But no one nation can meet the challenges of the 21st century on its own, nor dictate its terms to the world. That is something that America now understands just as Russia understands,” he said.
Earlier, Mr Obama met Vladimir Putin for the first time and praised his “extraordinary work” as president and prime minister. The tone of the meeting at Mr Putin’s country residence was in stark contrast to Mr Obama’s criticism of him last week as a man with “one foot in the old ways of doing business”.
Over a Russian breakfast of smoked Beluga and tea from a samovar, served up by waiters in folk costumes, Mr Putin told his guest: “We associate your name with the hopes of developing our relations.”
Mr Obama said that their meeting provided an “excellent opportunity to put US-Russian relations on a much stronger footing”. A senior US official later told reporters that the President had changed his view of Mr Putin and was now “convinced the Prime Minister is a man of today”.

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