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Putin, Rice Agree Rhetoric Must Be Toned down
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US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed yesterday that the rhetoric in US-Russian relations should be toned down, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.


Rice met Putin at the president's Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow to discuss growing rifts between Moscow and Washington ahead of Putin's meeting next month with President George W. Bush.


"(Putin) supported the understanding by the American side that rhetoric in public exchanges should be toned down and we should focus on concrete issues," ITAR-TASS news agency quoted Lavrov as saying after the talks between Putin and Rice.


Ties have been soured by Russia's opposition to US plans to deploy parts of a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe, and by Moscow's reluctance to support a US-backed plan to grant effective independence to the Serbian province of Kosovo.


Rice, who arrived in Moscow on Monday, dismissed talk of a new Cold War despite unease in Washington about Putin's criticism of US foreign policy. But the disputes, which have driven relations to the lowest point in years, are likely to come up when Putin meets Bush on the fringes of the Group of Eight summit in Germany next month.


A brief Kremlin statement gave no details of the meeting. Novo-Ogaryovo is normally chosen as a venue to stress the informal nature of talks.


Several top Russian officials indicated ahead of Rice's visit that Russia wanted good relations with Washington but would not compromise on missile defense or Kosovo. Russia says it does not see a threat that requires a missile shield in Europe, and argues that to force its ally Serbia to give up Kosovo sets a bad precedent.


Kosovo's fate may also come up when German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier meets Putin to discuss a growing list of disputes involving Russia and new European Union members that were once in the Soviet orbit.


An EU-Russia summit on Friday in the southern Russian town of Samara may be clouded by disagreements over everything from Russia's ban on Polish meat imports to its anger at Estonia's removal of a Soviet monument from Tallinn city center.


Steinmeier conceded on Monday that it was unlikely Russia and the EU would agree at the summit to start negotiations on an ambitious new partnership pact, due to cover trade, energy, human rights and foreign policy.


The presence of both German and US foreign ministers in Moscow on the same day underlines Western concern about relations during a period in which Putin has adopted a more confrontational stance toward the US and Europe.


Rice is the third top US official to visit Moscow since Putin made a speech in Munich in February in which he accused the US of seeking to impose its will on the world.


"I don't like the rhetoric either," Rice said ahead of her meetings.


However, she said Washington and Moscow cooperated well in trying to restrict the nuclear programs of Iran and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and that their dealings were nothing like the "implacable hostility" between the US and the Soviet Union.


"I know people... throw around terms like 'new Cold War'," she said. "The parallels... have no basis whatsoever."


(China Daily May 16, 2007)

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