U.S. And Russia Turn Down The Heat

Russian President Vladimir Putin invites Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for talks in his Novo-Ogaryovo country residence west of Moscow in this Oct. 15, 2005 file photo. The warm partnership hoped for by President Bush six years ago between the old Cold War superpowers has soured with suspicions, misunderstandings and perceived hurts on both sides.
Russia and the United States agreed Tuesday to moderate their rhetoric in a bid to improve strained ties, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said after Rice met with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Rice said recent comments by Putin and other Russians had not been "helpful" to relations and had obscured positive developments and cooperation on a wide range of issues, including the fight against terrorism and halting the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

"We did talk about the need to keep the temperature down," she said after seeing Putin in an effort to calm rising tensions between the former Cold War enemies.

She described some remarks as "overheated rhetoric," while accepting a Russian explanation that Putin's recent reference in a speech to Nazi Germany, widely perceived as criticism of the United States, was not intended to slight the Bush administration.

"I have said while I am here that the rhetoric is not helpful," Rice told reporters. "It is disturbing to Americans who are trying to do our best to maintain an even relationship."

"We are going to have our differences, there is no doubt about that. There are going to be old scars to overcome, there is no doubt about that ... But the relationship needs to be free of exaggerated rhetoric," she said.

Asked whether she thought her message was received by the Russians, Rice replied: "I sure hope so, because I don't think you ever hear President Bush use certain kinds of rhetoric about Russia because he respects the partnership."

Speaking separately, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Putin agreed.

"The president supported the American side's understanding that it's necessary to tone down the rhetoric in public statements and concentrate on concrete business," Lavrov, who participated in the meeting, told reporters.

Lavrov also suggested Rice had not dispelled Russia's opposition to U.S. plans to station a defense missile system in Europe, saying that "our stance on missile defense was reaffirmed."

Rice said missile defense continued to be an area that the two countries needed "to work through" but that no country, including Russia, would have a "veto" on issues related to U.S. national security.

In another key area, Lavrov said that the two countries agreed to search for a mutually acceptable solution on Kosovo, but failed to achieve a breakthrough.

"It was agreed to search for a solution on Kosovo that would be acceptable for all, but there is no such solution immediately in sight," he said after taking part in the meeting at Putin's residence outside Moscow.

There has been growing transoceanic tension about the U.S. missile defense plan, concern in Washington about Moscow's treatment of its neighbors and steps Putin has taken to consolidate power in the Kremlin — seen as democratic backsliding — as Russia prepares for presidential and parliamentary elections next year.

Rice headed into the talks in Moscow acknowledging that ties were tense, but rejecting suggestions that a "new Cold War" had erupted.

"I don't throw around terms like 'new Cold War,"' Rice said. "It is a big, complicated relationship, but it is not one that is anything like the implacable hostility" between the United States and the Soviet Union for a half-century after World War II.

"It is not an easy time in the relationship," Rice added, "but it is also not, I think, a time in which cataclysmic things are affecting the relationship or catastrophic things are happening in the relationship."

She noted that the United States and Russia are working together in numerous areas: on Iran and North Korea's nuclear programs, the global spread of weapons of mass destruction and efforts to achieve Middle East peace.

Despite the agreement to cool down the rhetoric, a planned event at which Rice and Putin were to be photographed together and make brief remarks was canceled by the Kremlin and a senior Russian diplomat on Monday warned the U.S. not to try to go it alone in world affairs.

In April, simmering Russian anger over U.S. plans to place missile defense components in Poland and the Czech Republic, both former Warsaw Pact members, boiled over despite Washington's pledges to cooperate with Moscow on the system.

Russia views the plan as an attempt to alter the strategic balance. Rice has dismissed such concerns as "ludicrous," but top Russian military officials have hinted the system might be targeted.

Last month, hours before the United States and its NATO allies met in Norway to discuss the matter, Putin threatened to suspend Russia's participation in a key treaty limiting military deployments in Europe.

Rice says that NATO and the United States want to keep the Conventional Forces in Europe pact alive but cannot unless Russia abides with its treaty commitments to remove troops from Georgia and Moldova.

Russia views U.S. activity in its former sphere of influence with growing suspicion. Just last week, Putin denounced "disrespect for human life, claims to global exclusiveness and dictate, just as it was in the time of the Third Reich."