On Russian Disarmament, Candidates Agree Both John McCain and Barack Obama support nuclear disarmament of Russia. McCain, however, wants to go one step further, kicking Russia out of the G-8.
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On Russian Disarmament, Candidates Agree

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On Russian Disarmament, Candidates Agree

On Russian Disarmament, Candidates Agree

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

As Barack Obama spoke today to tens of thousands of people in Berlin, he touched briefly on relations with Russia. Those relations may change regardless of whether Obama or John McCain becomes the next president. The Obama campaign often says the Republican will just follow the Bush administration's line. But when it comes to dealing with Russia, McCain has been very critical of President Bush. He says he'll be much more forceful in speaking out against the Kremlin's authoritarian tendencies.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on the debate between the campaigns over how to deal with Russia.

MICHELE KELEMEN: John McCain used to joke that when he looked into former Russian President Vladimir Putin's soul, he didn't see - as President Bush did - a man he could do business with, but rather an ex-KGB officer consolidating power.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): It's a KGB-like operation - gradual, steady, persistent, successful.

KELEMEN: Russia now has a new president, Dmitry Medvedev, but John McCain has kept up his tough line, accusing the Russian government of silencing political dissent at home, using energy as a weapon abroad, and launching a cyber-war against Estonia. He said in a speech in Los Angeles in March that NATO shouldn't stand for such actions, nor should the Group of Eight.

Sen. McCAIN: We should start by ensuring that the G8, the Group of Eight, highly industrialized state, becomes again a club of leading market democracies. It should include Brazil and India, but exclude Russia.

KELEMEN: He's talked about kicking Russia out of the G8 for several years now. Susan Rice, a top foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama, says speeches like that show that McCain is stuck in a Cold War mindset, trying to demonize Russia.

Ms. SUSAN RICE (Obama Adviser): John McCain really has a static - I would even argue retro - mid-late 20th century national security orientation, which is really, frankly, ill-suited to the challenges that we face.

KELEMEN: And she sees some contradictions within the McCain campaign.

Ms. RICE: These strange and counterproductive rhetorical stances that the neo-conservatives around John McCain seem to be advocating - like kicking Russia out of the G8 - are really at odds not only with our interest but with other aspects of John McCain's foreign policy, and indeed his approach to Russia. He never reconciles how he kicks Russia out of the G8 one day and cooperates with Russia the next day on nonproliferation and loose nuclear materials, for example.

KELEMEN: McCain's top foreign policy adviser is Randy Scheunemann, who has been a lobbyist for the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, a longtime critic of Russia, and someone who has gotten used to the neo-conservative label. He argues that McCain is actually being realistic about Russia, and will tell it like it is when it comes to Russia's retreat from democracy.

Mr. RANDY SCHEUNEMANN (McCain Adviser): Would complicate other areas of the relationship? It certainly may. But I think if you look at how President Reagan handled relationships with the Soviet Union, he was criticized roundly when he called the Soviet Union an evil empire and said that we should leave its ideology on the ash heap of history, and yet within a couple of years was negotiating very effectively with the next generation of Soviet leaders.

KELEMEN: This is another area where McCain has been distinguishing himself from the Bush administration, which had a disdain for arms control treaties. McCain has talked about the need for verifiable agreements with Russia to reduce nuclear arsenals. So too has Obama, who was worked with Republican Richard Lugar on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on efforts to control loose nuclear materials.

In his speech in Berlin today, Obama talked about a goal of a nuclear-free world and the need to work with Russia.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): In this century, in this city of all cities, we must reject the Cold War mindset of the past and resolve to work with Russia when we can, to stand up for our values when we must, and to seek a partnership that extends across this entire continent.

KELEMEN: Some officials in Europe have sounded uneasy with John McCain's tough talk about kicking Russia out of the G8. Obama seems to be playing up the differences in his tone and approach.

But the policies he promotes sound fairly similar to those of McCain. Obama too has said he won't turn a blind eye to what he calls the democratic erosion inside Russia. He describes Russia as neither an enemy nor an ally.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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