Rice gives upbeat account of Russian-U.S. cooperation in international arena

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking before a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, gave an unusually upbeat account Wednesday of U.S.-Russian cooperation on international issues.

"We see Russia as a strategic partner in stopping the spread of nuclear weapons," Rice said. "We see Russia as a partner in solving regional issues, like the Balkans or the Middle East."

In an interview with the radio station Ekho Moskvy _ one of Russia's few remaining independent media voices _ the visiting secretary of state also mentioned Russian cooperation with the United States and other countries in efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capability.

"Russia is not a strategic enemy," Rice said, suggesting that the two countries have worked well together since the final years of communist rule.

In the interview, Rice made scant reference to U.S. concern about setbacks to Russia's democratic development. She only briefly mentioned the great concentration of power under the president and the need for free media to help people decide their fates.

She also did not mention other areas of tension. These include what U.S. officials perceive to be Russian inaction in curbing violations of American intellectual property rights, including videos and computer software. Washington also contends that Russia has a poor record on stemming human trafficking.

The radio station invited listeners to vote on whether they consider the United States an ally or an adversary. The vote was 54 to 46 in favor of "ally."

Rice, who arrived Tuesday, said Russia should not consider the United States to be a threat, willing to exploit shifts to democracy in the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine. She said there was no reason why the United States and Russia could not cooperate in their approach to these countries.

Rice met with Putin on Wednesday afternoon.

"With your direct participation, our relations with the United States have reached the high-level which they have today. And we hope that this course will continue," Putin said at the start of the discussion.

Rice responded that she looked forward to a fruitful discussion "on various issues that are of interest to us: our common interest in regional stability, our common interest in the global war on terrorism, on economic development in the world."

Rice and Putin were expected to discuss next month's visit to Russia by U.S. President George W. Bush for the 60th anniversary ceremonies commemorating the Allied victory in Europe. Rice told Ekho Moskvy listeners that Washington was looking for agreement on improved access to nuclear installations by U.S. inspectors before the presidents' May meeting.

She said that she and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov discussed the issue over dinner Tuesday night, and that she had won assurances of some improved access. But Ivanov said Moscow was not considering the possibility of visits by American inspectors, the Interfax news agency reported.

In her radio interview, Rice rejected the view that American attempts to monitor Russian nuclear sites were an intrusion on the country's sovereignty. Instead, she said she considered it an opportunity for cooperation between the two countries.

One listener asked Rice whether she saw any difference between the export of democracy, as stated by the United States, and the export of socialist revolution, the goal of the former Communist regime here.

Rice said that if people were asked whether they want to be "free from the knock of the secret police at night, people will say yes."

She added that the role of the United States is to speak out in favor of the people's right to have a say in their own futures.

Russia's Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko wrote in an article Wednesday in the government newspaper, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, that the U.S. and Russian governments were working to widen the areas of accord.

"This is important against the background of mistrust of Russia, persisting among a definite part of the American political elite and of attempts to play under rules of former confrontation, when any success by one side was automatically regarded as a defeat of the other and vice versa," Yakovenko wrote.

Washington has accused Moscow of holding elections that fall short of international standards and of meddling in Ukraine's election last November on behalf of the pro-Moscow candidate. Another source of American disgruntlement is Russia's proposed sale of 100,000 rifles to Venezuela's pro-Cuban government.

At a brief news conference after a meeting and luncheon with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Rice said the United States has made clear to Russian officials its opposition to Russian arms sales to Latin America and to Venezuela in particular. Lavrov said, however, that Russian military cooperation with Venezuela does not run counter to any of his country's international commitments.

GEORGE GEDDA, Associated Press Writer

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