Putin challenges U.S. on rights, NATO expansion but praises shared "strategic" concerns
NOVO-OGARYOVO, Russia – Russian President Vladimir Putin challenged the United States on Friday over human rights and NATO expansion but said the two nations are more partners than opponents.In some of his warmest comments about the United States in months of sliding relations, Putin minimized disagreements between the two powers as “tactical” while asserting “the things that unite us are of a strategic character.”Putin said he was “satisfied with the level and quality” of U.S.-Russian relations. “In combatting terrorism, “we are more than partners,” he told a group of media executives from the Group of Eight nations at a dinner at his suburban residence.As a sign of Russia’s strategic opposition to terrorism, he said, “In some areas terrorists thought we would feed terrorism as the United States did in Afghanistan against the Soviets and as the Soviet Union did in Vietnam against the Americans.” But he said, “Our relations are so mature that we are not rolling back” on the Russian partnership with the United States.He said key elements of the partnership include growing U.S. investment in Russia and cooperation in blocking the spread of nuclear weapons. He praised the United States for its readiness to join talks with Iran over its nuclear program, though he said it’s too early to talk about sanctions that Washington favors if Iran doesn’t stop uranium enrichment.Russian-U.S. relations have been on a steady slide in recent years. This spring, Putin claimed the United States had put up artificial obstacles to slow Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization. The Pentagon accused Moscow of passing intelligence on U.S. troop movements in Iraq to Saddam Hussein in 2003.And in a May speech that the Kremlin tried hard to play down, Vice President Dick Cheney accused Putin’s government of rolling back democracy and strong-arming its ex-Soviet neighbors.Putin said Russia was prepared to discuss domestic as well as foreign policy questions with the United States, including human rights in Russia. But noting criticism of the United States’ own human rights record by Amnesty International, he suggested the U.S. was not in a position to preach to others.”I would like to point out that we can talk as equals with the United States” on rights issues, Putin said.Putin’s generally positive words toward the United States came six weeks before the G-8 conference, where he will host President Bush and other leaders of the world’s industrialized nations in St. Petersburg. Russia continues to seek U.S. backing for its entry into the WTO – something that would give it new trading advantages. It also wants an end to continuing U.S. restrictions on the sale to Russia of products with military applications. Russia considers the restrictions demeaning, and tied to its Soviet past.Putin also emphasized that Moscow feels threatened by the expansion of NATO membership to former Soviet bloc states and NATO involvement in the Middle East. NATO now leads a multinational force in Afghanistan.”When the military structure of NATO comes close to our borders, we react. Why should this happen in this world? It’s no longer a world of two systems,” he said.He questioned the point of NATO’s growth – “How does it help against terrorism?” – and said the West needed to work on winning trust in the Middle East.”The more you talk about NATO in the Middle East, the more terrorism there will be there,” Putin said. “Before you go with missiles and more weapons you should work on credibility.”In spite of the tension over expansion, Putin said Russia cooperates with the alliance on preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction in the Mediterranean region.Vail, Colorado
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