Rice, Putin Trade Cold War Words
Friday, June 1, 2007
BERLIN, May 31 -- Russia and the United States sparred yet again Thursday, continuing a war of words that has raised tensions across the Atlantic.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, accepting an award for her contributions to German unification more than a decade and a half ago, accused Russia of being stuck in the Cold War era. "We want a 21st-century partnership with Russia, but at times, Russia seems to think and act in the zero-sum terms of another era," Rice said in a speech in Potsdam.
Rice also knocked the decline of civil society in Russia under President Vladimir Putin. "Democratic institutions and an open society are not a source of weakness," Rice said. "Nor is freedom of speech and freedom of the press just a nuisance."
Putin, who is to meet with President Bush at Kennebunkport, Maine, in July, accused the United States of "imperialism" during a news conference in Moscow. "It wasn't us who initiated a new round of arms race," Putin said, referring to U.S. plans to install a missile defense shield in Europe and Russia's missile tests Tuesday in apparent response.
Rice, in her speech, asserted: "We find Russia's recent missile diplomacy difficult to understand, and we regret Russia's reluctance to accept the partnership in missile defense that we have offered."
"There is no need to fear Russia's actions; they are not aggressive," Putin said. "They are a mere response to harsh and groundless unilateral actions by our partners and are aimed at maintaining the balance of forces in the world."
The disputes between Russia and the United States have colored other diplomatic efforts, such as concerns over Iran's nuclear program and the future of Kosovo.
Rice, who spent most of the day in Vienna, said Thursday that the United States would not alter its demand that Iran suspend uranium enrichment before she would join talks on its nuclear program. Her statement came exactly a year after she first made the offer in a dramatic gambit to halt Tehran's push to obtain nuclear expertise.
"It is time for Iran to change its tactics," Rice said at a news conference with Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, speaking ahead of talks Thursday in Madrid between Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana. The two men have met repeatedly over the past year in an effort to find a formula to break the impasse, but to little avail.
Since Rice first made her offer, Iran has shrugged off two U.N. Security Council resolutions mandating limited sanctions. After the talks in Madrid, Larijani and Solana told reporters they would meet again in two weeks. "Sometimes we are not able to move the process as we like, but in any case the atmosphere continues to be very positive," Solana told reporters afterward.
In the enrichment process, uranium is rapidly spun in centrifuges. The International Atomic Energy Agency reported last week that during the diplomatic standoff, Iran has significantly accelerated its enrichment capability and is now operating 1,312 centrifuges, more than four times the total number four months ago.
IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei recently suggested that the time had come to accept some Iranian enrichment in an effort to win greater Iranian cooperation on inspections and limits on its program. The United States and its European partners have rejected the idea.
The Larijani-Solana meeting is the second the two men have held in a little over a month and comes just after Iran failed to meet a 60-day deadline set by the U.N. Security Council for suspending its program. On behalf of the United States, France, Britain and Germany, Solana has been instructed to consider even a month-long suspension, but few officials expect a breakthrough.
Before the talks began, Larijani told reporters that suspending enrichment was "not a logical way" to resolve the nuclear issue.
Rice flew to Vienna from Berlin to attend a meeting of senior female foreign policy officials to discuss ways to empower women in the Middle East and to address a session of the 56-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. She then returned to Berlin to receive the award.
Staff writer Robin Wright in Washington contributed to this report.