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Спорт Americans are not your enemy, president tells Arabic TV network as US envoy sets out on eight days of talks
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Obama seeks to repair damage in Middle East diplomacy drive

Barack Obama, interviewed in Washington by the Dubai-based al-Arabiya cable network Photograph: Al-Arabiya/AP

Barack Obama has sought to mend America's ties with the Muslim world, declaring: "Americans are not your enemy."

In a signal of his desire to repair the diplomatic damage of the George Bush era, Obama chose to give his first formal television interview since becoming US president to the Arabic cable TV network al-Arabiya. In it, he said the US sometimes made mistakes, but stressed that his administration would adopt a more open diplomatic approach than his predecessor's.

Obama renewed his pledge to make an address in the capital of a major Muslim country, pointed out that he had lived in Indonesia for several years while growing up, and said his travels through Muslim states had convinced him that, regardless of faith, people had certain common hopes and dreams.

"My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy. We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect," Obama said in the interview, recorded yesterday.

To Iran – which Bush declared part of an "axis of evil" – Obama repeated his offer of friendship, saying that he would set out a policy towards Tehran in the next few months.

Susan Rice, the new US ambassador to the United Nations, yesterday pledged "vigorous" and "direct" nuclear diplomacy with Iran but warned pressure would increase if Tehran refused to halt uranium enrichment.

The five permanent members of the UN security council – Britain, China, France, Russia and the US – and Germany have offered Tehran economic and energy incentives in exchange for halting its uranium enrichment programme, which the west sees as a cover to acquire a nuclear weapons capability. But Tehran is pressing on with the programme, which it says is geared toward electricity generation.

The president reiterated the US commitment to Israel as an ally, and to its right to defend itself. But he suggested Israel had hard choices to make, and that his administration would press harder for it to make them.

"We cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what is best for them," he said. "They are going to have to make some decisions. But I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realise that the path they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people."

Obama added: "There are Israelis who recognise that it is important to achieve peace. They will be willing to make sacrifices if the time is appropriate and if there is serious partnership on the other side."

Obama stopped short of giving a timetable, but he said he was certain progress could be made.

Russia 'suspends Kaliningrad missile plan'

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Russia has halted a plan to retaliate against a proposed US missile defence shield by stationing its own missiles near Europe's borders, a Russian news agency quoted the military as saying today.

The suspension of plans to deploy tactical missiles in the Western outpost of Kaliningrad, if confirmed, would show Russia is extending an olive branch to President Barack Obama after rocky relations under his predecessor.

"If true, this would of course be a very positive step," a spokeswoman quoted the US envoy to NATO, Kurt Volker, as saying in reference to the Russian report.

Obama spoke to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev by telephone on Monday, their first contact since the US inauguration, and the two men agreed to stop the "drift" in their countries' relations, the White House said yesterday.

Medvedev had said in November he was ordering the deployment of Iskander missile systems to Kaliningrad, which borders European Union members Poland and Lithuania, in response to Washington's plan for a missile shield in Europe.

"The implementation of these plans has been halted in connection with the fact that the new US administration is not rushing through plans to deploy" elements of its missile defence shield in eastern Europe, Interfax quoted an unnamed official in the Russian military's general staff as saying.

There was no immediate confirmation from the Russian military that the Iskander deployment was being suspended.

The issue is likely to be on the agenda if, as expected, Medvedev and Obama meet on April 2 on the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit in London.

"It (the suspension of missile deployment) is a signal to Obama of Moscow's goodwill," Yevgeny Volk, an analyst in Moscow with the Heritage Foundation think tank, told Reuters.

"In response they want a decision not to deploy the missile defence shield in eastern Europe."

Some observers believe the Kremlin may be softening its assertive foreign policy style because the economic slowdown - which has seen the rouble lose about a quarter of its value since July - has dented its confidence.