U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Friday defended the process of NATO expansion while saying former Cold War rival Moscow is no longer an adversary but a partner. Clinton delivered a speech on European security policy and met senior French officials in Paris.
Clinton used the address at the historic L'Ecole Militaire in Paris to reaffirm the centrality of Europe and NATO to U.S. interests, calling European security a priority for the Obama administration. "Some wonder whether we understand the urgent need to improve security in Europe. Others have voiced concern that the Obama administration is so focused on foreign policy challenges elsewhere in the world that Europe has receded in our list of priorities. Well, in fact, European security remains an anchor of U.S. foreign and security policy."
At the same time Clinton made clear a determination to improve relations with Moscow.
The secretary said the Obama administration inherited a "deteriorating" relationship with Russia a year ago but began a rebuilding process.
That effort she said has yielded progress on stabilizing Afghanistan, confronting Iran's nuclear program, and confronting North Korea's defiance of international obligations.
She also said the two powers are close to concluding a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that will replace the 1991 accord which expired in December, and bring further dramatic cuts in their nuclear arsenals.
Clinton defended the process of NATO expansion begun during her husband's administration and which has been a chronic irritant in dealings with Moscow. "For years, Russia has expressed a sense of insecurity as NATO and the EU have expanded. But we strongly believe that the enlargement of both has increased security stability and prosperity across the continent. And that this in turn has increased Russia's security and prosperity," she said.
The secretary said Moscow endorsed the right of all countries to chose to join alliances at a European security conference in 1999, and said NATO must and will remain open to any country that aspires to membership and can meet entry requirements.
Clinton says U.S. and Russian interests will not always overlap but pledged to seek constructive ways to discuss and manage differences which she said include Moscow's stepped up support for two breakaway Georgian regions since the the brief Russia-Georgia conflict erupted in 2008. "We have repeatedly called on Russia to honor the terms of its cease-fire agreement with Georgia, and we refuse to recognize Russia's claims of independence for Abkhazia and South Ossetia. More broadly we object to any spheres of influence claimed in Europe in which one country seeks to control another's future," she said.
Clinton said the United States is serious about exploring ways to cooperate with Moscow, including the issue of missile defense in Europe, and that the safety of an envisaged regional system could extend to Russia if, she said "it decides to cooperate with us."
She also said the United States stands with Ukraine as they choose a new president next week in an election she termed an important step in Ukraine's journey toward democracy, stability and full integration in Europe.