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Condoleeza holds talks in Moscow

Associated Press, Moscow, 7 April 2003


The US national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, conferred with Russian officials on Monday on a visit intended to mend ties that had frayed badly amid sharp differences over the war in Iraq.

Rice smiled as she emerged from a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, and told reporters only that they had held "very good discussions."

The foreign ministry didn't immediately comment on the agenda, but the Interfax news agency quoted an unidentified diplomat as saying that Sunday's shelling of a convoy evacuating the Russian ambassador and other diplomats from Baghdad was among the subjects discussed.

At least four diplomats were injured when the Russian convoy came under attack as it headed out of Baghdad toward the Syrian border on Sunday. It was unclear whether US or Iraqi forces were responsible.

Later Monday, Rice headed to a meeting with President Vladimir Putin's Security Council chief, Vladimir Rushailo. She was also scheduled to meet with the Kremlin chief of staff, Alexander Voloshin, and with Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov.

US President George W Bush spoke to Rice after she arrived in Moscow on Sunday morning, the White House said. The day before, Bush had spoken with Putin, and the two leaders emphasized the need to continue the two countries' political dialogue despite differences over Iraq, according to the Kremlin press service.

Putin strongly condemned the war in Iraq when it was launched, but he tempered his tone in several public statements last week, saying that a US defeat would not be in Russia's interests.

He also said Saturday that the Kremlin would urge Russian lawmakers to ratify a key nuclear arms reduction treaty with the United States, which the lower house of parliament had postponed indefinitely last month as a sign of protest ahead of the imminent war. "The message is being sent to Bush: . . . don't think badly of us, we can be friends, moreover, we badly want to be friends," the business daily Kommersant commented Monday.

Some observers say the change in tone reflects Russia's hope of winning a role in Iraq's postwar reconstruction, as well as its desire to prevent further damage to its ties with the United States.

US-Russian relations were bolstered by Putin's strong support for the US war in Afghanistan, but cooled again over Iraq. Amid the worst strain in years, Washington accused Russian companies of shipping military equipment to Iraq, charges that Moscow angrily denied.

Russia, in turn, fumed at US spy plane flights over the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia, near its southern border.

Copyright © 2003 Associated Press
Copyright © 2003 Hindustan Times Ltd.
Reprinted for Fair Use Only.

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