Munich, Germany (AFP) Feb 11, 2007
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates on Sunday deflected a stinging broadside against the United States by Russian President Vladimir Putin, declaring: "One Cold War was quite enough." The new US defence chief used wry humour in his debut speech to an international security conference to deflate Putin's portrayal of the United States before the same audience as a dangerous, destabilizing world power.
Gates also sought to mend fences with Europeans alienated by his predecessor Donald Rumsfeld. He acknowledged past US mistakes and said Washington needed to do a better job of explaining its policies.
"Speaking of issues going back many years, as an old Cold Warrior, one of yesterday's speakers almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time. Almost," said Gates, before adding: "One Cold War was quite enough."
Gates, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said the world was more complex today than during the Cold War and that partnerships with other countries, including Russia, needed to face common problems and a new challenge from Islamic extremism.
"Let me repeat there is no desire for a new Cold War with Russia and one is completely unnecessary," he said during a question-and-answer session.
"I have, like your second speaker (Putin) yesterday, a career in the spy business. And I guess old spies have a habit of blunt speaking," he said.
The new US defence secretary also made a pointed reference to Rumsfeld, who had antagonized European powers by dividing the NATO alliance into countries that supported the US invasion in Iraq and those that did not.
"Over the years, people have tried to put the nations of Europe and of the alliance into different categories," he said. "And I am told that some have even spoken in terms of 'old' Europe versus 'new'."
"All of these characterizations belong to the past," he said.
In response to a question however Gates bluntly warned that a US failure in Iraq would hurt all NATO countries.
"There may be great disagreement in this room in how we got to where we are, but the reality is, as of today, failure in Iraq will impact every country represented in this room," Gates said.
He said that scandals at the Guantanamo US "war on terror" prison and at US-run jails in Iraq have damaged the reputation of the United States, but he defended trials of terrorist suspects by special military commissions as legitimate.
"While I don't have any doubt that in certain quarters there may be anti-American propaganda. But I think we also have made some mistakes, and not presented our case as well as we'd like in many instances."
"I think we have more work to do in terms of restrengthening American soft power around the world."
Putin on Saturday stunned top officials and academics at the security conference with a vehement attack on US leadership in the world.
A former KGB spy, Putin charged that the United States has "overstepped its borders in all spheres," creating a dangerous "uni-polar" world that had brought war, ruin and insecurity.
He questioned the intentions behind NATO expansion eastward into countries that once formed part of the Soviet Union, and US plans for missile defence systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, both former Soviet bloc states.
Gates in contrast said Russia was "a partner in endeavours" adding that he had accepted an invitation from Putin and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov to visit Russia.
"But we wonder too about some Russian policies that seem to work against international stability, such as its arms transfers and its temptation to use energy resources for political coercion," he said.
Russia "need not fear law-based democracies on its border," he said.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov denied Sunday that Putin had meant to be aggressive, saying it was a sign of the maturity of Russia's relations with NATO countries.
"That happened because our relations with the European Union, the United States and especially Germany are so mature, that we're free to say what we really think, openly, frankly, without any hypocrisy and Cold War thinking," Ivanov said.
"I don't think it was aggressive and confrontational at all."
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"His accusations are wrong," he said.
"We expect to continue cooperation with Russia in areas important to the international community such as counterterrorism and reducing the spread and threat of weapons of mass destruction," Johndroe said.
Putin, speaking at a high-level security conference in Munich, Germany, said Saturday: "The United States has overstepped its borders in all spheres -- economic, political and humanitarian and has imposed itself on other states."
What he called a "unipolar" world dominated by the United States, "means in practice one thing: one center of power, one center of force, one center of decision-making, a world of one master, one sovereign," Putin said.
Such a situation "is extremely dangerous. No one feels secure because no one can hide behind international law," Putin said at the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy.
The speech marked a further worsening of relations between Moscow and Washington under Putin, who has tried to restore Russia's prestige since the economic collapse that followed the Soviet Union's 1991 disintegration.
Russian officials have accused Washington of sparking a new arms race due to US plans for missile defense facilities in the Czech Republic and Poland.
earlier related report
Last week, President Vladimir Putin said Russia would come up with a "highly effective" strategic response if the plans went through, adding that his country already had the missiles to overwhelm a US defence shield.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates met here Thursday with Ivanov, and although they made no public comment, Russian concerns about the US plans were expected to be a subject of discussion.
"We do have differences. There's no question about that," Gates said, without elaborating, after Thursday's meeting. "But I think having conversations like this, having a frank discussion is clearly the best way to go."
Ahead of the NATO meeting, a senior US official insisted that the shield posed "no threat to Russia" and that the United States remained "open to future cooperation" on it.
A top NATO official said Washington "has briefed Russia on the programmes in Prague and Warsaw" and that, in any case, the shield is only for "rogue threats".
Czech Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova said it was important to discuss the issue at NATO.
"We will not ensure liberty and security by burying our heads in the sand or by wanting to get rid of all the positions of US military presence in Europe. That is not the way to world peace," she told reporters Tuesday.
The US request for an installation on Czech soil is supported by the centre-right government of Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, and has spawned a vigorous debate in the country.
Opponents, led by the Communist Party, have organised three protests to denounce the plan, while the main opposition party, the Social Democrats, have called for a referendum on the question.
Local mayors are also reluctant to host a US base due to public hostility.
The expansion of the US missile umbrella is not yet integrated into NATO's missile plans, and some of the 26 member countries have reservations about the scheme.
In Ukraine, meanwhile, the pro-Russian Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Azarov has slammed the plan as "a threat, especially for Ukraine" and said that his country should have been consulted, according to the Interfax news agency.
"How would the Polish leaders react if, for instance, Russia offered and we accepted to install an anti-missile defence system on the Polish border?" he said. "That's how we should react."
Source: Agence France-Presse
Email This ArticlePutin Stuns With Attack On US
Munich (AFP) Feb 11, 2007
Russian President Vladimir Putin attacked the United States as a reckless "unipolar" power that has made the world more dangerous by pursuing policies that have led to war, ruin and insecurity. Putin stunned an audience that included US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and senior US and European officials with the speech Saturday at a high-level security conference in Munich.
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