Putin 298 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
President Vladimir Putin urged the United States on Tuesday to open talks on a new weapons treaty to replace the key START agreement, and called for Russian diplomats to find new, inventive responses to international challenges.
"We must be fully aware that the potential for conflict in the world, in spite of all efforts, continues to grow," Putin said in a speech before Russia's diplomatic corps at the Foreign Ministry, a biannual assessment of Russia's place in the world.
"We call for the renewal of dialogue on key weapons reduction issues; first of all, we propose to our American partners to launch negotiations on replacing the START treaty," Putin said, adding that it was necessary to help reverse what he called a period of "stagnation" in disarmament.
The treaty, signed on July 31, 1991 by the United States and the Soviet Union, limits the number of various types of vehicles and warheads that could be deployed by either side. The agreement expires in 2009.
Putin also called for ties between the two powers to be on a more equal footing, reflecting Russians' irritation at what they see as an attitude of superiority by the US toward them.
"Relations between such powers as Russia and the United States must be built exclusively on the basis of equal rights and mutual respect," Putin said.
Turning to global issues, Putin called for broader international cooperation in the struggle against terrorism and drug trafficking, in peacekeeping missions and jointly responding to natural disasters.
He said his country would not join any "holy alliances", stressing Russia supports dialogue "between civilizations", and said it would not support any "ultimatums" that would undermine the authority of the United Nations Security Council.
"We will not participate in an ultimatum which would drive the situation into a dead end," he said, referring tacitly to the Iranian nuclear crisis.
The United States and Europe are pressing Iran to quickly respond to a package of incentives to give up uranium enrichment and resume negotiations over its nuclear ambitions.
The West suspects Iran is enriching uranium to create nuclear weapons. Teheran contends the program is intended solely for peaceful electricity generation.
Touching on conflicts closer to home, Putin said that all territorial disputes, "whether in Kosovo or Cyprus, the Southern Caucasus or Trans-Dniester", should be resolved on the basis of universal principles. Moscow has opposed giving ethnic Albanian-dominated Kosovo independence from Serbia, a country that is a staunch Russian ally, and has sought to link the issue with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two regions that broke away from Georgian government control in the 1990s.
Russia has long backed Abkhazia and South Ossetia, granting many of their residents Russian citizenship and incurring the ire of Georgia, which is seeking to bring the regions back under government control. Georgia has accused Russian peacekeepers in the two regions of backing the separatists and has threatened to eject them, but Putin said Moscow would continue its peacekeeping missions in spite of what he called "open provocations."
Putin devoted much of his speech to problems encountered by ethnic Russians abroad who seek Russian citizenship, saying they faced unnecessary obstacles.
"It's strange, because Russia needs an inflow of immigrants," Putin said. "The only question is that they be people who are needed by the country, law-abiding, respectful of our country and who will settle where Russia needs them, that they be involved in the activities necessary for the economic development of the country."
The meeting began with the diplomats standing for a moment of silence for the Russian Embassy workers who were killed in Iraq; one was killed when militants abducted the group, and four others were executed. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters that Moscow had called on the US-led coalition forces in Iraq to boost security for foreign missions there.