Sunday, November 9, 2008

SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt (AP) — In what may be one of her last such sessions as secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice met with her Russian counterpart in an effort to cool simmering tensions between the two superpowers in the final months of the Bush administration.

MISS Rice, in a meeting the State Department described as “good and productive,” hosted an 80-minute discussion with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at her hotel in here.

Despite the length of the private meeting, there was no sign either side had budged on its position on the most contentious issues, notably missile defense, arms control and Russia‘s war with Georgia.

Neither Miss Rice nor Mr. Lavrov made any public comment after Saturday’s meeting, which also covered efforts to deal with Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs, according to department spokesman Sean McCormack.

Mr. Lavrov said later that Russia was not satisfied with the latest U.S. proposals on nuclear arms reduction and missile defense and that positions President-elect Barack Obama has expressed provide hope for a “more constructive” approach, Russian news agencies reported Sunday.

Mr. Lavrov said there would likely be further consultations on the defense issues with the United States this year, but suggested any final agreements would likely come only with the new U.S. administration.

“We have paid attention to the positions that Barack Obama has published on his site. They instill hope that we can examine these questions in a more constructive way,” state-run RIA-Novosti quoted Mr. Lavrov as saying.

Mr. Obama has expressed skepticism about the effectiveness and cost of a multibillion-dollar missile defense program undertaken by the Bush administration to base American missiles in Poland as part of a shield against possible attacks from Iran.

A U.S. missile shield so close to its borders has been a sore point with Russia.

Mr. McCormack said that, during their meeting, Miss Rice and Mr. Lavrov “talked about the broad range of issues in the relationship in the context of the Sochi declaration.” He was referring to a document signed this year by Mr. Bush and then-Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Black Sea resort.

The declaration acknowledges the former Cold War foes will have disagreements on various issues but pledges that the two countries will work together in areas where cooperation is possible and in their interests.

Yet that principle has been challenged in recent months as Russia, under new President Dmitry Medvedev, has accelerated aggressive stances with the invasion of Georgia in August and just this past week with a blistering critique of U.S. missile defense plans for Europe.

“On Georgia, the two reiterated their unchanged positions,” Mr. McCormack said, indicating Miss Rice had not backed down on harsh U.S. criticism of Russia’s military action and Mr. Lavrov had held to Moscow’s firm defense of the operation.

The two did say that despite intense disagreements over missile defense and a successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expires at the end of next year, U.S. and Russian officials would meet soon to discuss new U.S. proposals, he said.

But prospects for breakthroughs on both appear poor, especially after Mr. Medvedev on Wednesday blasted the U.S. missile defense plans and threatened to move short-range nuclear missiles to Russia’s borders with NATO allies.

Mr. McCormack said Miss Rice and Mr. Lavrov spent much of their time talking about how to preserve the limited progress made in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks after Washington conceded the negotiations could not meet a year-end deadline to produce a deal.

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