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Secretary Gates Recalls Cold War in Rejecting Putin Remarks

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has dismissed an attack on U.S. foreign policy by Russia's president during a security meeting in Germany. VOA's Stephanie Ho report, Gates has accepted an invitation to visit Russia.

The U.S. defense secretary told officials gathered at a security conference in Munich, Germany, that he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks plainly because of his background as a former intelligence operative.

"Many of you have backgrounds in diplomacy or politics. I have, like your second speaker yesterday, a starkly different background, a career in the spy business. And I guess old spies have a habit of blunt speaking," said Gates. 

In a speech to the meeting Saturday, President Putin blamed U.S. policy for inciting other countries to seek nuclear weapons to defend themselves from what he called "an almost uncontained use of military force."

He said, "Military force leads to a situation where no country feels secure anymore." He said, "such policy is the catalyst for an arms race, and is nourishing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."

President Putin's comments prompted the White House Saturday to express Washington's surprise and disappointment. Defense Secretary Gates said the Russian leader's speech reminded him of the Cold War, but said it is time to move on.

"The real world we inhabit is different and a much more complex world than that of 20 or 30 years ago," said Gates. "We all face many common problems and challenges that must be addressed in partnership with other countries, including Russia. For this reason, I have this week accepted the invitation of both President Putin and Minister of Defense [Sergey] Ivanov to visit Russia. One Cold War was quite enough."

He said the United States considers Russia a global partner. But at the same time, he questioned Russian policies that he said work against international stability, including arms transfers and using energy resources for what he called political coercion.

Other speakers Sunday included German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

He said the world is at a crossroad, where the international community must persuade Iran and other countries to give up their nuclear ambitions, or once again face a nuclear arms race that would have unforseen consequences.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, who also spoke Sunday, said his country's nuclear program is not a threat to Israel or any other nation.

The annual two-day Munich Conference on Security Policy ended Sunday. For more than four decades, it has brought together the international security community from more than 40 countries, to discuss the development of trans-Atlantic relations and global security issues.

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