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Gates On Putin's Anti-US Tirade.

At the Munich conference Gates on Feb. 11 brushed aside a blistering attack on US foreign policy by Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying "one cold war was quite enough". Putin lambasted US foreign policy in a theatrical display at the high-profile security conference on Feb. 10, saying "illegal" unilateral military action had plunged the world into an "abyss of permanent conflicts".

In his first major international speech since succeeding Donald Rumsfeld in December, Gates avoided upping the ante with the former KGB officer by laughing off his polemic, saying: "As an old cold warrior, one of yesterday's speeches almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time...Almost".

Gates, a former head of the CIA, continued: "I guess, old spies have a habit of blunt speaking. However, I have been to re-education camp, spending four and-half years as a university president and dealing with faculty. And, as more than a few university presidents have learned in recent years, when it comes to faculty it is either 'be nice' or 'be gone'". Gates, who said he had accepted an offer from Putin to visit Russia, dismissed suggestions of a new cold war. But he did register US displeasure with Russian foreign policy, including its use of energy resources for "political coercion".

Putin had accused Washington of sparking a new arms race with its missile defence system, and criticised the expansion of NATO to include former members of the Soviet Union.

Putin's speech at a normally august conference drew surprise and criticism. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer expressed disappointment Putin had made such a "remarkable" speech at such a venue. US Sen. Lindsey Graham half-joked that Putin had done "more in a single speech to unite Europe and America than anything we could have done in a decade", while Sen. John McCain said the speech included the "most aggressive remarks by a Russian leader since the end of the cold war".

Czech Republic Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg drew loud applause - and a smile on the face of Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov - by thanking Putin for bringing attention to the normally sleepier conference. In a more serious vein, however, Schwarzenberg said Putin had "clearly and convincingly" shown why NATO should be enlarged.

Ivanov agreed on Feb. 11 that a new cold war was not imminent. He said Russia was spending just 2.6% of GDP on defence, adding: "We are not spending on defence what the Soviet Union did - which was 30% - 3%: feel the difference".

Speaking to an audience which included defence ministers from many NATO states, Gates stressed the importance of resolve in Afghanistan, saying the alliance needed to ensure the "offensive in Afghanistan this spring will be our offensive" against the Taliban insurgency. In comments intended to up the pressure on EU allies, Gates said it would be a "mark of shame" if NATO let its successes in Afghanistan "slip away through neglect or lack of political will or resolve".

Responding to Kenneth Roth, the director of Human Rights Watch, Gates conceded that the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and prisoner abuses in Iraq had damaged the reputation of the US. He added that the military tribunals to try the prisoners would be "transparent", with full media access.
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Title Annotation:Vladimir Putin
Publication:APS Diplomat News Service
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Feb 19, 2007
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