MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Barack Obama urged Russia to work with the United States on missile defense, an issue that has long divided the Cold War foes, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported on Thursday.
“I believe that cooperative missile defense with Russia has enormous potential,” Interfax quoted Obama as saying in an interview released hours before the U.S. leader’s scheduled talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at the White House.
Obama, who has initiated a “reset” meant to mend badly strained relations with Russia, pleased the Kremlin last year by scrapping Bush-era plans for missile-defense installations in former Moscow satellites Poland and the Czech Republic.
Russia said those plans were a threat to its security and has been less critical of revised U.S. blueprints, but talk of cooperation on missile defense has brought few visible results.
Moscow has stressed its right to withdraw from a landmark nuclear arms treaty Obama and Medvedev signed in April if U.S. plans for a missile shield develop into a threat.
Analysts say the Kremlin may be wary that significant cooperation with the United States — which says it wants to defend against possible strikes from nations such as Iran — could be seen as blanket approval of U.S. efforts.
Obama said the United States had recently proposed to the Russian government a number of ways to begin cooperation on missile defense, according to an Interfax English-language report.
He was quoted as saying that “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.”
It was not immediately clear whether the quotes were Obama’s original words or a translation back into English from Russian.
Obama also said he was “very pleased with the progress that we have made in resetting our relations with Russia, and the concrete steps that we have achieved together over the last 18 months,” according to Interfax.
“President Medvedev and I are deliberately trying to avoid framing U.S.-Russian relations in zero-sum terms,” he said, referring to the Cold War calculus under which anything good for one of the nuclear-armed rivals was bad for the other.
Obama, who critics say has been too soft on Russia, was quoted as saying that “when we witness injustices or abuses, my administration has been quick to raise concerns both publicly and privately.”
Obama said that “we see partners both in the (Russian) state and in the public who are committed to protecting human rights and improving democratic governance.
“So, when we advocate for human rights and democracy in Russia, we are not exporting American values but affirming our shared values,” Interfax quoted him as saying.
Writing by Steve Gutterman, editing by Mark Trevelyan