Rice Prods Moscow on Press Freedom, Iran

The Associated Press
Saturday, October 21, 2006; 1:20 PM

MOSCOW -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Saturday delivered a symbolic rebuke to Russia over shrinking press freedoms even as she courted President Vladimir Putin for help punishing Iran over its nuclear program.

Rice made a point of scheduling an interview with Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper where a reporter critical of Russian policy in neighboring Chechnya had worked before her murder this month. Rice also met with the reporter's son.

Rice's one-day trip to Moscow followed talks in Asia last week over North Korea's nuclear test on Oct. 9. Russia voted for U.N. penalties against North Korea after the test, and the United States is seeking Russian cooperation for an upcoming vote on sanctions against Iran.

Yet even before Rice arrived in the Russian capital, her Russian counterpart said Moscow will not allow the Security Council to be used for punitive measures against Iran. Russia, however, was ready to discuss ways to pressure Iran into accepting broader international oversight of its nuclear program, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

"Any measures of influence should encourage creating conditions for talks," Lavrov said in an interview with the Kuwaiti News Agency KUNA that was posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry Web site Saturday.

"We won't be able to support and will oppose any attempts to use the Security Council to punish Iran or use Iran's program in order to promote the ideas of regime change there," according to the interview Friday.

A draft resolution is expected to be introduced in the Security Council early this week, and diplomats have said they would seek limited penalties for Tehran's refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.

Rice's decision to meet with Novaya Gazeta editors and reporters was a reminder to Putin of the widening rift between Russia and the U.S. over what the Bush administration sees as a rollback of democratic gains under the Russian president.

She met privately with Putin later Saturday.

Previewing her message to the newspaper editors, Rice told reporters traveling with her that she wanted to speak to one of a shrinking number of "independent voices" in Russian media.

"The fate of journalists in Russia is a major concern," Rice said. "Anna Politkovskaya was a particularly well-known and well-respected journalist so I think it's important to note that."

Politkovskaya repeatedly had accused Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov's security forces of abducting, torturing and killing innocent people. Her newspaper posthumously published her last story that described alleged torture by the Kremlin-backed Chechen security services.

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