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Yesterday the Presidents of two countries once consumed by the Cold War came together to begin putting what President Obama calls a "reset" of relations into concrete action
. They hammered out agreements on a range of issues, perhaps most notably taking the first steps towards decreasing the threat of nuclear weapons to the human race. Today the President spoke at the graduation of the New Economic School
and laid out his broad vision for a new relationship.
He spoke of Russia’s history and heritage:
I know that NES is a young school, but I speak to you today with deep respect for Russia's timeless heritage. Russian writers have helped us understand the complexity of the human experience, and recognize eternal truths. Russian painters, composers, and dancers have introduced us to new forms of beauty. Russian scientists have cured disease, sought new frontiers of progress, and helped us go to space.
These are contributions that are not contained by Russia's borders, as vast as those borders are. Indeed, Russia's heritage has touched every corner of the world, and speaks to the humanity that we share. That includes my own country, which has been blessed with Russian immigrants for decades; we've been enriched by Russian culture, and enhanced by Russian cooperation. And as a resident of Washington, D.C., I continue to benefit from the contributions of Russians -- specifically, from Alexander Ovechkin. We're very pleased to have him in Washington, D.C. (Applause.)
He spoke of the obvious benefits of cooperation, and the obstacles that still manage to obstruct it:
Yet unfortunately, there is sometimes a sense that old assumptions must prevail, old ways of thinking; a conception of power that is rooted in the past rather than in the future. There is the 20th century view that the United States and Russia are destined to be antagonists, and that a strong Russia or a strong America can only assert themselves in opposition to one another. And there is a 19th century view that we are destined to vie for spheres of influence, and that great powers must forge competing blocs to balance one another.
These assumptions are wrong. In 2009, a great power does not show strength by dominating or demonizing other countries. The days when empires could treat sovereign states as pieces on a chess board are over. As I said in Cairo, given our independence, any world order that -- given our interdependence, any world order that tries to elevate one nation or one group of people over another will inevitably fail. The pursuit of power is no longer a zero-sum game -- progress must be shared.
That's 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 -- though that is important and I've had excellent discussions with both your President and your Prime Minister. It must be a sustained effort among the American and Russian people to identify mutual interests, and expand dialogue and cooperation that can pave the way to progress.
(President Barack Obama is seen at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, July 6, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
And he spoke on that central issue of his visit, nuclear non-proliferation:
This is the core of the nuclear challenge in the 21st century. The notion that prestige comes from holding these weapons, or that we can protect ourselves by picking and choosing which nations can have these weapons, is an illusion. In the short period since the end of the Cold War, we've already seen India, Pakistan, and North Korea conduct nuclear tests. Without a fundamental change, do any of us truly believe that the next two decades will not bring about the further spread of these nuclear weapons?
That's why America is committed to stopping nuclear proliferation, and ultimately seeking a world without nuclear weapons. That is consistent with our commitment under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That is our responsibility as the world's two leading nuclear powers. And while I know this goal won't be met soon, pursuing it provides the legal and moral foundation to prevent the proliferation and eventual use of nuclear weapons.
We're already taking important steps to build this foundation. Yesterday, President Medvedev and I made progress on negotiating a new treaty that will substantially reduce our warheads and delivery systems. We renewed our commitment to clean, safe and peaceful nuclear energy, which must be a right for all nations that live up to their responsibilities under the NPT. And we agreed to increase cooperation on nuclear security, which is essential to achieving the goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear material within four years.
(President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama walk with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his wife Svetlana Medvedeva at their dacha outside Moscow, July 6, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)