U.S. Secretary of State Concludes Intensive Diplomacy in Russia

By David McKeeby
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - Policy differences over European-based missile defense and the future of Kosovo should not overshadow the strength of the common interests underlying U.S.-Russian relations, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says after a two-day visit to Moscow.

“We have a lot that is going right in the relationship,” Rice said at a May 15 press roundtable, but “overheated rhetoric” obscures the fact that the United States and Russia are cooperating closely on nonproliferation and counterterrorism efforts - including sharing of information and intelligence - as well as engaging in multilateral diplomacy on Iran, North Korea and the Middle East peace process.

“There are going to be times when we disagree, but it is true that sometimes the rhetoric makes it sound as if the relationship itself is in question, rather than that there are specific differences that we have,” she said.

Rice said that, during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, she reiterated a previous offer by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to join in a proposed ballistic missile defense shield to protect the region, featuring 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a supporting advanced radar system in the Czech Republic. Russian officials have expressed concern that the site could be the first piece of a larger system that could engage Russian strategic missiles. (See related article.)

“We hope that they will take us up on some of the offers of cooperation that we've made because we think that Russia, the United States, [and] Europe ought to be planning for and trying to meet, technologically, the threats of the 21st century,” she said.

Rice and Gates will continue discussions on missile defense with their Russian counterparts, she said later in the day in a joint press appearance with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Another important issue, she said, is addressing Russia’s opposition to a U.N.-sponsored plan for the future of Kosovo, which Moscow argues lacks sufficient safeguards for the region’s ethnic Serbian minority and may be seen as a precedent for resolving “frozen conflicts” along Russia’s periphery. (See related article.)

"I think this is going to be an issue of trying to find a way to address their concerns and yet be able to move forward," Rice said.

Rice also discussed Russia’s recent proposal to suspend its obligations under the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, a cornerstone of European security concluded at the end of the Cold War to set limits on military equipment deployed from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains.

Revised in 1999 during the Istanbul NATO Summit, many countries have refused to ratify the new version until Russia completes its pledged withdrawal of troops from Georgia and Moldova.

“We aren't going to get very far by just deciding not to fulfill the terms of the treaty,” Rice said.  “I think it's better to try and get to the root of what is concerning the Russians and to see if there's any way to address them.”

Transcripts of Rice’s press appearances are available on the State Department Web site.

For more information, see Russia.