U.S. President Barack Obama is urging Russians to work with the United States to
tackle the big security and economic problems of our time. In a speech to
graduates of an economics school, Mr. Obama made the case for better
The president began his day in Moscow by wrapping up talks with Russian leaders.
He met for the first time with Russian Prime Minister - and former President - Vladimir Putin who many analysts consider the most powerful man in the country.
Their words were cordial. Their tone was polite.
"We may not end up agreeing on everything, but I think that we can have a tone of mutual respect and consultation that will serve both the American people and the Russian people well," said Mr. Obama.
A few hours later, the president shifted focus and took his case for better relations directly to the Russian people.
The venue was a graduation ceremony for the New Economic School, which was established in Moscow, after the fall of the Soviet Union, by Americans and Russians eager to provide training in free market theory.
Mr. Obama told the graduates that much has changed in the last 20 years. And, he talked about at length about just how the United States sees the future of relations with its former Cold War adversary.
"To begin with, let me be clear: America wants a strong, peaceful and prosperous Russia," he said. "This belief is rooted in our respect for the Russian people and a shared history between our nations that goes beyond competition."
He said the old Cold War assumption that America and Russia can only exist as antagonists who compete for spheres of influence is wrong.
"That is why I have called for a "reset" in relations between the United States and Russia. This must be more than a fresh start between the Kremlin and the White House - (al)though that is important and I have had excellent discussions with both your president and prime minister," said President Obama. "It must be a sustained effort among the American and Russian people to identify mutual interests and to expand dialogue and cooperation that can pave the way to progress."
But the president made clear that, in his search for common ground, he is not going to set aside principles that he thinks are important.
He talked about human rights and matters of national sovereignty - issues that have created friction with Moscow in the past.
"Just as all states should have the right to choose their leaders, states must have the right to borders that are secure and to their own foreign policies. 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 is vehemently opposed to the notion of NATO membership for the two former Soviet bloc countries. President Obama says he does not seek to impose a security arrangement on any nation. He noted Ukraine and Georgia must still clear many hurdles to be eligible for alliance membership. And, he stressed once again that NATO seeks collaboration with Russia, not confrontation.