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Obama defends right to NATO expansion

Pro-Russia protesters greet US frigate in Sevastopol
Pro-Russia protesters cried "NATO out" Wednesday as a US naval frigate arrived in the Ukrainian naval port of Sevastopol, where Russia's Black Sea fleet is also based. The USS Klakring docked at 0630 GMT, as about 250 largely communist and far-left demonstrators also shouted "Yankee go home!" The frigate is in port for a five-day "friendly visit" and will not take part in any exercises, a Ukrainian navy statement said. It is feared that Sevastopol in the Crimea, where the Russian fleet has maintained a presence for over 200 years, could become a flashpoint in strained relations between Russia and the West. Russia signed a 20-year contract with Ukraine in 1997 to station its fleet in the Black Sea and makes an annual payment of 12 million dollars (nine million euros) to Kiev for the privilege. Ukrainian officials have repeatedly called for the fleet to leave Sevastopol when the lease expires in 2017.

Obama to meet leaders of Russia, South Korea, India, China
US President Barack Obama will hold his first one-on-one talks with the leaders of Russia, China, India and South Korea during his visit to London next week, the White House said Wednesday. Obama will hold crucial talks with China's President Hu Jintao, which are likely to focus on the economic crisis and global security issues on April 1, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. He will also hold his eagerly awaited first meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on the same day, after saying his administration wants to "reset" US relations with the Kremlin. On April 2, Obama, who will be in London for the Group of 20 summit of developed and developing nations, will hold talks with India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and South Korea's President President Lee Myung-Bak. The president will also have talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and see Britain's Queen Elizabeth during the visit, as well as attend the G20 talks. Most of the meetings had already been announced or were public knowledge but Tuesday's comments by Gibbs represented the first time the White House had confirmed the dates of the encounters.
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) March 25, 2009
US President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he wanted to "reset" US relations with Russia but argued NATO should still be open to countries which aspire to join the alliance.

"My administration is seeking a reset of the relationship with Russia," Obama said after an Oval Office meeting with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

But Obama said reinvigorated ties with Moscow must be "consistent with NATO membership and consistent with the need to send a clear signal throughout Europe that we are going to continue to abide by the central belief ... that countries who seek and aspire to join NATO are able to join NATO."

Russia's anger over NATO's eastward expansion near its border has been a frequent irritant in relations between the White House and the Kremlin.

Obama's comments came a week before he is set to hold his first meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on the sidelines of the Group of 20 economic summit in London.

The US president will also next week make his debut visit to the NATO summit, on the border of France and Germany.

Scheffer attempted to downplay the alliance's differences with Russia.

"We have many things on which we disagree, but NATO needs Russia and Russia needs NATO, so that's one of the things we agree on."

"Let's not hide our disagreements, and let us realize that also this relationship can and might be, should be strengthened."

"As President Obama said a moment ago, NATO's door will stay open for new members if they perform, if they fulfill the criteria."

Under the previous administration of former president George W. Bush, the United States was a strong backer of Georgia's efforts to join NATO, as well as the candidature of Ukraine.

Tensions over the issue flared particularly following Russia's war with Georgia last year.

Obama said the 60th anniversary of the western alliance was "testimony to the effectiveness of NATO in creating stability and peace and prosperity, laying the groundwork for so much that has taken place over the last several years."

earlier related report
NATO chief warns of 'difficult' relations with Russia
US relations with Russia have entered a period of "uncertainty" as Moscow appears determined to sow discord within Europe and undermine US influence, NATO's top commander warned on Tuesday.

"The relationship with Russia is likely to be more difficult to manage in coming years than any time since the end of the Cold War," General John Craddock told a congressional hearing in written testimony.

Citing Russia's military action supporting breakaway regions in Georgia in August 2008 and disputes over gas supplies to Europe in January this year, Craddock wrote Moscow's actions "suggest that their overall intent may be to weaken European solidarity and systematically reduce US influence."

The stark warning comes as President Barack Obama's administration seeks to reduce tensions with Russia, suggesting possible concessions on plans for a missile defense system in Central Europe in exchange for Moscow's support on diplomacy over Iran's nuclear program.

Obama is due to meet his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, for the first time at the Group of 20 summit in London on April 2.

Craddock, who also serves as head of US European command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Russia had adopted a "newly assertive posture" towards its neighbors and to European states that rely on Russian energy.

"We are in a time of uncertainty in the US-Russian relationship brought about by disagreements over European security, Russia's role in what it regards as its neighborhood, and Russia's decision to send forces into Georgia and to recognize the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia," he wrote.

The refusal of other neighboring countries to back Russia's recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia reflected "regional unease over a revanchist Russia," the commander said.

The US military sought "a pragmatic military-to-military relationship" and hoped that talks with Russian counterparts would resume soon, he said.

Russia's actions in Georgia had altered the assumptions of the post-Cold War era that borders in the region were no longer under threat, the general told lawmakers.

"My judgment in that is that the events of last August in Georgia essentially changed the assumption that we made 15 years ago or more.

"And the assumption after the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact was that there were no borders that were under threat of invasion in Europe and Eurasia, that that would not be the case," he said.

"And I think that assumption has been now proven false."

While Washington has planned to reduce the size of US forces stationed in Europe, Craddock said he recommended army brigades designated to return in coming years should remain, saying they contribute to "deterrence efforts" -- though he did not mention Russia.

Tensions rose meanwhile between Russia and Ukraine after Moscow expressed anger over Kiev's agreement with the European Union for investment in its gas pipeline network.

Russia's reaction revived fears of a repeat of a gas dispute in January which left a dozen EU countries without energy supplies.

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NATO chief warns of 'difficult' relations with Russia
Washington (AFP) March 24, 2009
US relations with Russia were entering a period of "uncertainty" as Moscow appeared determined to sow discord within Europe and undermine US influence, NATO's top commander warned on Tuesday.

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