Putin Rebukes U.S. for Its Use of Force

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

New York Times

February 10, 2007

MUNICH, Germany (AP) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Saturday that the United States' increased use of military force is creating a new arms race, with smaller nations turning toward developing nuclear weapons.

Speaking at a conference of the world's top security officials, including the Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, Putin said nations ''are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper use of force in international relations.''

''One state, the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way,'' he told the 250 officials, including more than 40 defense and foreign ministers.

''This is nourishing an arms race with the desire of countries to get nuclear weapons,'' Putin said, but did not elaborate on specifics and did not mention the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The Russian leader also voiced concern about U.S. plans to build a missile defense system in eastern Europe -- likely in Poland and the Czech Republic -- and the expansion of NATO as possible challenges to Russia.

''The process of NATO expansion has nothing to do with modernization of the alliance or with ensuring security in Europe,'' Putin said. ''On the contrary, it is a serious factor provoking reduction of mutual trust.''

On the missile defense system, Putin said: ''I don't want to accuse anyone of being aggressive'' but suggested it would seriously change the balance of power and could provoke an unspecified response.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates had little to say about Putin's remarks, noting only that ''he was very candid.''

Sen. Joseph Lieberman said Putin's charge that the U.S. ''aspired to get unipolar power or acted unilaterally is just not borne out by the facts.''

''Even our involvement in Iraq, certainly Afghanistan, is pursuant to United Nations resolutions,'' said Lieberman, I-Conn. ''So that was provocative and wrong.''

Putin's spokesman Dimitry Peskov said the Russian leader did not intend to be confrontational, but acknowledged it was his harshest criticism of the United States since he was elected in March 2000.

''The reason for his comments is Russia's concern about the growing amount of conflicts and the malfunctioning of international law,'' Peskov told the AP.

Earlier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tehran needs to accept demands made by the U.N. and the International Atomic Energy Agency on its nuclear program. The United States and several of its Western allies believe that Iran is using the nuclear program to produce an atomic weapon.

''There is no way around this,'' Merkel said. ''What we are talking about here is a very, very sensitive technology, and for that reason we need a high degree of transparency -- which Iran has failed to provide -- and if Iran does not do so, then the alternative for Iran is to slip further into isolation.''

On the sidelines of the conference, Larijani defended his country's nuclear program as peaceful, saying: ''We are no threat to our region or other countries,'' while indicating a willingness to return to negotiations.

''We are prepared to work together with other countries for a comprehensive peace,'' he said.

Heading into the conference, Larijani said he planned to use the gathering as an opportunity to discuss Iran's nuclear program -- the first talks with Western officials since limited U.N. sanctions were imposed in December.

The annual Munich Conference on Security Policy, now in its 43rd year, often is used as an opportunity for informal diplomacy.

Merkel, whose country holds the rotating European Union presidency, emphasized the international community's support for Israel and said there was a unified resolve to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The conference this year focuses on ''Global Crises -- Global Responsibilities,'' looking at NATO's changing role, the Middle East peace process, the West's relations with Russia and the fight against terrorism.

Some 3,500 police were on hand to keep some 1,300 protesters in check, officials said. Scattered arrests were reported, but police said there were no major incidents.

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Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor and Slobodan Lekic contributed to this report.