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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 May 2007, 21:20 GMT 22:20 UK
No breakthrough for US and Russia
By James Rodgers
BBC News, Moscow

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at a press conference in Moscow
Ms Rice's position on Kosovo is unpalatable for Russia
Russia and the United States have defined their differences. They have not settled them.

The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, announced that Washington and Moscow had agreed to tone down the rhetoric in their public exchanges.

The recent tension between Russia and the United States has been characterised by tough, critical, statements from both sides.

This seemed to be the sum of what they could agree on.

Condoleezza Rice is still willing to make strong statements.

During the talks Russia repeated its opposition to US plans for a new missile defence system in Europe.

Afterwards, the secretary of state was dismissive.

"The United States needs to be able to move forward to use technology to defend itself and we're going to do that," she said after her meeting with President Vladimir Putin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting, 15 May
Mr Putin takes a dim view of Nato's expansion

"I don't think that anyone expects the United States to permit somehow a veto on American security interests."

There is still no common position on the future of Kosovo.

Russia insists that any plan must be acceptable to Serbia. In essence, that means no to independence or anything too close to it.

Moscow has threatened to use its veto at the UN Security Council.

New Cold War?

Today's talks produced no 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," Mr Lavrov admitted.

Ms Rice reinforced the impression that a universally acceptable agreement was elusive.

The optimism and warmth which marked the end of the Cold War seem a distant memory

She told Radio Ekho Moskvy that Kosovo would never again be part of Serbia - hardly something that Serbia, and therefore Russia, finds it easy to agree with.

There has been a lot of talk lately about the possibility of a new Cold War. Ms Rice was quick to quash such talk, and her sentiments have been echoed by the Russians.

But the current worsening in relations has its roots in the 1990s.

Nato grew to include members from the former Eastern bloc. Moscow saw that as hostile, and unnecessary.

The Russian view was "Nato was a Cold War institution. The Cold War is over. Why does Nato need to expand?"

The present plans for the missile shield are seen by many here - from the corridors of the Kremlin to the village streets - as more of the same.

'Interference'

Privately, Kremlin insiders remain dismayed by Washington's questioning the state of Russian democracy.

Many here in Moscow see such criticism as an attempt to interfere in Russian internal politics.

Whether or not the rhetoric is toned down, the United States is unlikely to remain silent on issues such as the banning and violent breaking up of protests against President Putin.

Perhaps Mr Lavrov struck the most optimistic note. He expressed the hope that the coming elections in Russia and the United States would not disrupt bilateral relations.

In doing so, he held open the prospect of a future when the two sides might more readily see eye to eye.

The optimism and warmth which marked the end of the Cold War seem a distant memory.




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