Washington and Moscow say they are not enemies

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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Marianna Belenkaya) - Russia and the United States agreed Tuesday to "tone down rhetoric" in public debate and focus on real issues.

This is the most anyone could expect from the Moscow talks between President Vladimir Putin and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Officially, Rice has come to Russia to discuss the agenda for the forthcoming meeting of Putin with President George W. Bush at the G8 summit in Germany this June. But she also expected to cover a broader range of issues in Moscow, because Russian-American relations have almost reached a breaking point recently, and the media started talking about a new Cold War.

Shortly before her trip to Moscow, Rice expressed concerns about Russia's behavior, including its treatment of former Soviet republics, notably Ukraine and Georgia, its energy policy and the pace of its development toward becoming more democratic.

Moscow is unhappy with Washington's plans to deploy its ballistic missile defense systems in Europe and its policy in the CIS, a traditionally Russian zone of influence, as well as with the ineffective Russia-NATO partnership.

Neither does it accept American criticism of its treatment of the former Soviet republics, its domestic policy, in particular in the human rights sphere. Russian politicians view such criticism as an example of unfair competition and an ideologically laden approach to international affairs.

The situation has been complicated by Putin's proposal of a moratorium on the treaty on conventional forces in Europe (CFE) made in late April. The West viewed it as Russia's response to the U.S. ABM plans in Europe.

Moscow rejects this interpretation, as well as media allegations that Russian-U.S. relations are fast approaching a new Cold War.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after his talks with Rice: "I do not think Moscow's attitude to the U.S. should be described as hostile rhetoric. It would be more correct to assess it as an invitation for more open dialogue on all issues, especially on those where viewpoints differ, and there are enough of these."

He said the Foreign Ministry knew it would have to work very hard to smooth over differences, but it was set to do this. He was referring to differences over U.S. plans for missile defenses in Europe, Russia's idea of suspending the CFE treaty and its opposition to a UN plan for Kosovo independence.

Rice expects that the two countries will find a compromise over Kosovo within weeks, although it is not clear how this can be done. As for ABM, Rice said she and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates could come to Moscow for "two-on-two" talks during the fall, and added that this could minimize misunderstandings between the two nations. Rice said differences did not threaten bilateral relations. Lavrov later told journalists: "Russia and the U.S. will inevitably have to remain partners if we are both to realize our responsibility for the world's fate." There is no Cold War between Russia and the Untied States, Rice and her counterparts in the Moscow talks said, shifting the focus to partner projects.

The Russian minister said the two presidents had approved a list of issues their countries would address jointly. It includes cooperation to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the fight against international terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime, and the development of safer and more efficient ways to develop peaceful nuclear programs.

Russia and the United States are also working jointly to replace the strategic arms reduction treaty, which expires in 2009, with a comparable document.

Lavrov thanked the United States for supporting Russia's policy of integration in global economic organizations, primarily the World Trade Organization, and praised their cooperation in the quartet of intermediaries in the Middle East conflict.

Rice added to the list Russian-U.S. cooperation on the issue of Iranian and North Korean nuclear dossiers.

Taken together with cooperation in cultural, scientific and technological, and economic spheres, the list of partner projects is quite impressive. But this does not mean there are no problems in bilateral relations, which have been gathering moss for years and provoking recurring crises. These problems are rooted in the Cold War period.

Regrettably, bilateral relations in spheres outside the fight against modern challenges, such as international terrorism, often develop as if the war is still on. It is surprising that the Cold War ghosts have not been laid to rest despite personal friendship between Americans and Russians at different levels.

On the other hand, the outrage expressed publicly by Russian and American politicians is largely designed for home consumption. It was not surprising that Lavrov said Putin and Rice did not want Russia and the U.S. to become hostages of election campaigns in the two countries, where presidential polls are scheduled for next year.

Putin and Bush should leave behind them a firm foundation of friendship on which their successors will promote bilateral cooperation. High-ranking politicians in the two countries are convinced that the foundation has been created.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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