MUNICH, Germany (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Sunday dismissed an attack on U.S. foreign policy by Russian President Vladimir Putin as the blunt talk of an old spy and said it was vital to keep working with Moscow.
In a speech which one U.S. senator said smacked of Cold War rhetoric, Putin told a security conference in Munich on Saturday the United States was making the world a more dangerous place by pursuing policies aimed at making it the “one single master”.
A White House spokesman said it was “surprised and disappointed” by the comments and some Europeans said it was a wake-up call from a tougher Russia, newly empowered by a sharp rise in the prices of its oil, gas and metals exports.
But despite their concerns, the White House and Gates underlined the need for cooperation with Moscow.
“Many of you have backgrounds in diplomacy or politics,” Gates, a former CIA director, told the same Munich conference.
“I have, like your second speaker yesterday (Putin), a starkly different background -- a career in the spy business. And, I guess, old spies have a habit of blunt speaking.
Gates raised concerns about Russian arms transfers and its “temptation to use energy resources for political coercion” which he said could threaten international stability.
But he said: “We all face many common problems and challenges that must be addressed in partnership with other countries, including Russia.”
“One Cold War was quite enough,” he added.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, addressing the conference, also underlined the potential for cooperation between the old foes to fight the new threat of terrorism.
“We need to use all the efforts of the world community in countering terrorists and to concentrate our efforts at the most vulnerable spots,” he said. He proposed cutting off militants’ financial channels and preventing them recruiting.
The Kremlin has for several weeks been dropping hints that Putin, who steps down next year after two terms in power, was preparing a major foreign policy speech that would point the way for his successor.
His remarks coincide with disagreement between Russia and the United States over the Iraq war and the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea.
Russia is also concerned by U.S. plans to deploy an anti-missile system in the Czech Republic and Poland. Washington says it is needed for defense against rockets launched by Iran and North Korea but Moscow rejects this argument.
Putin attacked the concept of a “unipolar” world in which the United States was the sole superpower, saying this meant “one single center of power, one single center of force and one single master”.
“People are always teaching us democracy but the people who teach us democracy don’t want to learn it themselves,” he said.
U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman said the speech was provocative and marked by “rhetoric that sounded more like the Cold War”.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said: “We have to have a dialogue with Russia but we must be hard-nosed and realistic. We must stand up for our values.”
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg made clear his country’s concerns, saying Putin’s remarks showed the importance of expanding the NATO transatlantic military alliance.
“We have to thank President Putin, who not only took good care (to create) great publicity for this conference, greater than we expected, but who clearly and convincingly argued why NATO should be enlarged,” he told the Munich conference.
Like other formerly communist members of the European Union and NATO, Czechs fear Moscow wants to be a dominant power in Europe just as it was in Soviet times.
POLICY SIGNAL TO SUCCESSOR
Putin denies seeking to confront the West. He says U.S. domination in the post-Cold War world has not made the world a safer place and the global order should be reviewed to take account of new centers of power such as China, India and Russia.
Political analysts said Putin wanted his successor, due to be elected in March 2008, to follow his course and was trying to set out long-term foreign policy guidelines.
Russia’s grudges against the post-Cold War world have been piling up for years and his strong language will strike a chord among Russians who feel either ignored or unfairly targeted.
“This indicates that Russia is mature enough to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in the world,” Gleb Pavlovsky, a political analyst closely connected to the Kremlin, told Interfax news agency.
Reporting by Madeline Chambers, Mark John, Kristin Roberts in Munich and Oleg Shchedrov in Moscow; writing by Timothy Heritage; edited by Richard Meares
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