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US, Russian diplomats seek to ease tensions

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Associated Press Writer


SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt (AP) — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with her Russian counterpart on Saturday as they sought to ease escalating tensions in the waning weeks of the Bush administration.

In what may be one of her last such session with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as the chief U.S. diplomat, Rice hosted Lavrov at her hotel in this Egyptian Red Sea resort for an 80-minute discussion that the State Department described as "good and productive."

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 Rice nor Lavrov made any public comment after the meeting, which also covered efforts to deal with Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs, according to department spokesman Sean McCormack.

"They talked about the broad range of issues in the relationship in the context of the Sochi declaration," McCormack said, referring to a document signed this year by 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," McCormack said, indicating Rice had not backed down on harsh U.S. criticism of Russia’s military action and 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 that 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 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.

McCormack said Rice and 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.

Rice and Lavrov planned to participate Sunday in a meeting with other international mediators trying to keep the year-old peace process alive and cementing its modest successes during upcoming political transitions in both the U.S. and Israel.

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