- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2007

1:14 p.m.

MOSCOW — Russia and the United States agreed today to moderate their rhetoric in a bid to improve strained ties, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said after Miss Rice met with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Miss Rice said recent comments by Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. 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,” Miss 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, Miss 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, Mr. Lavrov said Mr. 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,” Mr. Lavrov, who participated in the meeting, told reporters.

Mr. Lavrov also suggested that Miss 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.”

Miss Rice said missile defense continued to be an area that the two countries need “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, Mr. Lavrov said 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 Mr. Putin’s residence outside Moscow.

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

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

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