In his most extensive remarks on human rights and democracy on this overseas trip, President Obama said that nations and governments that promote the rule of law and respect the will of its citizens succeed while those who do not, fail.
"The arc of history shows us that governments which serve their own people survive and thrive. Governments which serve only their own power do not. Governments that represent the will of their people are far less likely to descend into failed states, to terrorize their citizens, or to wage war on others," Obama said in a speech at the commencement ceremony for the New Economic School, a Russian graduate program in economics.
Obama applauded Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for his call for judicial reform here, saying, "People everywhere should have the right to do business or get an education without paying a bribe. That is not an American idea or a Russian idea. That's how people and countries will succeed in the 21st century."
"By no means is America perfect. But it is our commitment to certain universal values which allows us to correct our imperfections, and to grow stronger over time," the president said. "If our democracy did not advance those rights, I -- as a person of African ancestry -- wouldn't be able to address you as an American citizen, much less a president."
Obama stressed that the United States does not want to impose its own system of values or government on another nation, noting that his administration supports restoring Honduran President Manuel Zelaya to power even though he has strongly opposed American policies.
"We do so not because we agree with him. We do so because we respect the universal principle that people should choose their own leaders, whether they are leaders we agree with or not," he said.
Zelaya met today with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said following the meeting that Costa Rican president Oscar Arias has agreed to mediate the political and constitutional crisis in Honduras.
However, her remarks did not go as far as those of the president's in Russia. Clinton would only say that the United States would not like to see Zelaya attempt a return to Honduras as he did on Sunday, sparking violent protests in the capital. Instead, she expressed hope that a dialogue process "can begin as soon as possible."
Russian opposition leaders responded positively to Obama's speech, but they pointed out that Obama's summit was mainly talk and that no concrete plans had been made.
"For the first move, for sort of an opening, I think it was very impressive," said former chess champion and presidential candidate Garry Kasparov. "Take it for face value, I still think it's a step forward from what we saw in the previous administration."
Boris Nemtsov, deputy prime minister under former Russian President Boris Yeltsin and a strong critic of the current government, said U.S.-Russia relations still have a long way to go.
"The idea [of resetting relations] was very bright but I think it will be very hard to put it into effect because there is no trust between our countries," Nemstov said.