Interfax: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is coming to Washington for the third time while you are in the office, but it will be his first state visit to the United States. What are your expectations from this visit? What are the concrete agreements that the United States is interested to conclude with Russia at this visit?
Barack Obama: Since meeting a year ago in Moscow, Presidents Medvedev and I have worked closely together to end the drift in US-Russian relations and reset relations on a more constructive path that allows us to pursue policies of mutual benefit to the American and Russian people. In 18 months, we signed the new START treaty, expanded Russia’s participation in the Northern Distribution Network to supply our troops and those of our allies and partners in Afghanistan, reached agreement on new UN Security Council resolutions to deter nuclear proliferation activities by North Korea and Iran, and cooperated on a number of non-proliferation activities, including an agreement that commits both our countries to secure enough nuclear material for 17,000 nuclear weapons. In addition, President Medvedev and I oversaw the resumption of military-to-military cooperation and established a broad agenda for cooperation through the 16 working groups established under the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission. This record of achievement gives us a solid foundation on which to expand our cooperation in other areas.
During President Medvedev’s upcoming visit, I am especially interested in discussing ways that the U.S. and Russia can enhance trade and investment between our two countries and work together to create conditions conducive to fostering innovation. Given President Medvedev’s interest in innovation, I think it is very appropriate that he is beginning his trip in California and visiting the Silicon Valley, one of the centers of innovation and entrepreneurship in our country.
I: Over the last year of you being in the office the Russian-American relations have significantly improved, especially with the new START agreement being concluded. Looks like, we are witnessing another honeymoon in bilateral relations that hopefully won’t be completed with another divorce as it happened in August of 2008. However, your critics are insisting that you are making too many concessions to the Kremlin while not getting anything back from the Kremlin. What would you say to those critics?
B.O.: I am very pleased with the progress that we have made in resetting our relationship with Russia, and the concrete steps that we have achieved together over the last 18 months. President Medvedev and I have a very good working relationship, and my Administration is building a relationship with the Russian government and the Russian people based on mutual interests.
President Medvedev and I are deliberately trying to avoid framing US-Russia relations in zero sum terms, but instead are looking for win-win outcomes. To date, we have a record of achievement that demonstrates the benefits of such an approach. Indeed, the issues that we have addressed – whether Afghanistan, the new START treaty, nuclear security, Iran, or increased economic ties – are fundamental to advancing both American interests and Russian interests. We do not have to make concessions on these issues, because we are building upon a foundation of common interests. And a central tenet of our new policy towards Russia is to avoid linkage between issues that have little in common with each other. So, we will continue to disagree on certain issues, but that need not stand in the way of cooperation that can be mutually beneficial.
I: The issue of development and deployment of the US ABM program in Europe remains a serious point of conflict between US and Russia. One of US congressmen even said that the deployment of ABM near the Russian borders is an insult to Russia. Why United States is so eager to develop the system that even did not prove to be workable?
B.O.: The American and Russian people increasingly face threats from countries that are developing more sophisticated missiles. We will be more able to address these threats together, and that’s why I am a strong proponent of cooperating with Russia on developing missile defense systems. We have recently proposed to the Russian government a number of ways to begin this cooperation. I believe that cooperative missile defense with Russia has enormous potential, since the sharing of our technologies and information, which we currently collect about missile launches from third countries, can make both of our countries more secure.
The phased adaptive approach to ballistic missile defense that we have proposed to deploy in Europe is not directed against Russia but is intended to protect our allies, our partners, and the American people from threats emanating from other countries such as Iran. In addition to this program we are developing missile defense in other parts of the world and want to work with Russia to be a key player and beneficiary in this global architecture.
I: Counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan are the core issues of Obama administration in the foreign policy. What cooperation would you like to see from Russia in Afghanistan aside from the transit of the military cargo that proved to be quite successful?
B.O.: Both the United States and Russia are threatened by violent extremists and have suffered tragic losses in terrorist attacks. Afghanistan and Pakistan are priorities for my Administration because of the continued threat posed – not just to the United States, but to nations around the world – by al-Qaeda and their extremist allies.
I am quite pleased with the increasing cooperation the United States enjoys with the Russian Federation on Afghanistan. Not only are we collaborating on transit of troops, supplies, and equipment, but we also are engaged in substantive exchanges of intelligence about drug traffickers and terrorists and their financing, coordinating assistance efforts for the Afghan government to help build capacity of the Afghan Counter-Narcotics Police and Afghan National Army, working together within the framework of the UN to both sanction Taliban and al Qaeda as well as promote reconciliation efforts, supporting interdiction efforts through the framework of the Paris Pact initiative, and collaborating to stem the flow of precursor chemicals to Afghanistan used to process heroin. In addition the Russian Federation has taken a leadership role in the international community by organizing meetings bringing together countries to tackle the problem of illicit drugs emanating from Afghanistan.
I: The issue that is bothering Russia most of all as related to Afghanistan and US policy in Afghanistan is an increasing flow of drugs to Russia that became the result of U.S. policy to stop eradication of the opium poppy in Afghanistan. The idea that looks sound theoretically to give an alternative source of income to the peasants in Afghanistan from the agriculture, in practice proves to be irrelevant and leads to the serious in-flow of narcotics to the Russian Federation. Is there any way the United States can reverse its policy on this subject?
B.O.: Illicit opium cultivation and production in Afghanistan has been a long-standing problem that has grown more entrenched. The problem is complex and requires a comprehensive, strategic approach that addresses not only providing alternative livelihoods for farmers, but also stepping up interdiction efforts, destroying drug labs, interrupting trafficking of illicit opiates and precursor chemicals used to process heroin, attacking financial assets of traffickers, preventing money laundering and diversion of illicit proceeds to terrorists, and promoting comprehensive informational campaigns to dissuade farmers from cultivating opium. In addition, intensifying demand reduction efforts both in Afghanistan and in those countries that are consumers of Afghan opiates is no less important. We are working closely with our Russian and other international partners in all of these areas. While we may not always agree on the tactics, we share the same objectives and will continue to listen to Russian views and experiences.
I: It looks like the democracy in Russia is no longer an issue for the current Administration while there is cooperation on strategic issues such as arms control, Afghanistan, Iran, non-proliferation. U.S. human rights activists recognize that America has no leverage to influence Russia on such issues as human rights.
B.O.: As I made clear last year in Moscow – and most recently in my National Security Strategy – my Administration is committed to advancing universal values around the world, including in Russia. We do not seek to impose our system of government on anyone else, and we believe that keeping our democracy strong at home helps us to inspire and support others seeking to build democracy in their own countries. And in Russia we see partners both in the state and society who are committed to protecting human rights and improving democratic governance. Public opinion polls also show that the majority of Russian citizens want to select their leaders directly rather than have someone choose their leaders for them; belief in constraints on government power and the rule of law applied equally to all, and desire access to independent media. So, when we advocate for human rights and democracy in Russia, we are not exporting American values but affirming our shared values.
The best way to advance these common values is through engagement, specifically dual track engagement – interaction with the Russian government and with Russian society. For instance, when I was in Moscow last summer, I met with President Medvedev and Prime Minister [Vladimir] Putin and discussed these issues. But I also met with students, business executives, human rights defenders, civil society leaders, and political opposition figures. And when we witness injustices or abuses, my Administration has been quick to raise concerns both publicly and privately.
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