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Obama and Russia Leaders Come to Terms on Several Points of Tension

Video
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." Video by AP

Even as Obama called for greater cooperation with Russia, he raised issues that continue to be sources of friction between the two nations.

He said the United States is committed to "universal values," including freedom of speech, an independent press and competitive elections -- values that he said promote peace and stability. They are also values that many critics say Russia routinely violates.

Obama invoked his own example as the nation's first African American president.

"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," he said.

Obama also said modern times require countries to respect the sovereignty of other countries. "That is true for Russia, just as it is true for the United States," he said. "Any system that cedes those rights will lead to anarchy. That is why this principle must apply to all nations -- including Georgia and Ukraine."

Russia has been irritated at the United States' support of the two former Soviet states, arguing that the countries lie within its geographical sphere of influence. Russia has also opposed the efforts of Georgia and Ukraine to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, saying their membership would bring the security alliance right to its border, which it views as a potential threat.

Obama rejected that view.

"For any country to become a member of NATO, a majority of its people must choose to; they must undertake reforms; and they must be able to contribute to the alliance's mission," Obama said. "And let me be clear: NATO seeks collaboration with Russia, not confrontation."

Sergei Rogov, director of the Institute for the U.S. and Canadian Studies, said Obama's visit was more successful than most in Russia had expected. Obama "made all the right sounds in a very respectful way" and did much to reduce mistrust in Moscow, he said.

"It's not only a change in tone. It was a change in substance," he added. "The new agenda is much broader than ever."


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