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Rice chides russia on quieting dissent { February 6 2005 }

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February 6, 2005
Rice Chides Russia on Quieting Dissent but Rejects Penalty

ANKARA, Turkey, Feb. 5 - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a top Russian envoy Saturday that Moscow's crackdown on dissent was making Russian-American relations "more difficult," a State Department official said. But Ms. Rice also signaled in public that the United States would not try to isolate Russia because of its actions.

The State Department official, speaking after a dinner between Ms. Rice and Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov, said the secretary cited Russia's steps to take over independent television, seize the oil company Yukos and arrest its leaders, and remove powers from state governors.

He said Ms. Rice made the expression of American concerns more central to the discussion than previous American officials had with the Russians in the past.

"These things do make it more difficult to pursue a full and deep relationship," Ms. Rice told Mr. Lavrov, according to the official, who spoke at a briefing under State Department ground rules that required anonymity because of the confidential nature of the session being described.

Earlier Saturday, Ms. Rice acknowledged to reporters on her plane here that Russia had recently fallen backward on democracy and democratic reforms but that the government of President Vladimir V. Putin would not be punished or isolated by an American cutoff of cooperation in a variety of other areas.

Those comments were themselves the most recent indication that President Bush's inaugural vow to spread freedom in the world did not signify a major change in American approach with certain countries.

Ms. Rice said Mr. Bush's Inaugural Address would lead to American officials' raising the issue, but only in the context of other cooperative ventures, many of which she said would involve integrating Russia with democratic trends in the West.

"To the degree that the emphasis continues to grow in American policy and rhetoric about democracy and the importance of it, of course it becomes a central part of every discussion we have around the world," Ms. Rice said on her plane from Warsaw.

But she also emphasized that cooperation with Russia had led to progress in combating terrorism, stabilizing Afghanistan and Iraq, and to Russian willingness - despite deep misgivings - to accept new democratic but somewhat anti-Russian governments in Ukraine this year and in Georgia after a popular uprising in the fall of 2003.

"On the matter of domestic trends in Russia, yes, I think those have been less favorable in recent times," Ms. Rice said. "We've made no secret of that, but we're not going to stop working at it. We haven't stopped talking about it, and I think it continues to be an important part of our dialogue."

She said Mr. Bush's Inaugural Address should not be seen as suggesting a "clean break" with the past but rather building on policies already under way.

The dinner with Mr. Lavrov, who flew to the capital of Turkey just to meet with the new secretary of state on her first overseas trip, was intended to pave the way for a meeting between Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin in Bratislava this month.

On her second full day of her weeklong trip to Europe and the Middle East, Ms. Rice churned through meetings in three countries - first with civic and opinion leaders in Germany, then with Polish leaders in Warsaw, and finally Saturday night with a brief meeting with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and the dinner with Mr. Lavrov.

On Sunday she is to meet with more Turkish leaders to discuss their acute concerns about the security situation in neighboring Iraq, and then she plans to fly to Israel for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Ms. Rice said she would listen to Turkish concerns and assure leaders here that the United States supported the territorial unity of Iraq, and opposed any effort by Kurds in the north to break away. Turks fear that if the Kurds separate or gain autonomy, it will encourage the uprising of Kurds in the east of the country.

In Poland, a country where Mr. Bush remains highly popular despite mounting anxiety over the presence of 2,400 Polish troops in Iraq, Ms. Rice sought to smooth relations by working on a new package of American military aid and on help in expediting the granting of visas for Poles wishing to visit the United States.

The Polish foreign minister, Adam Rotfeld, said Poland would proceed with plans to pull 800 of its troops out of Iraq, and Ms. Rice expressed gratitude to Poland for its help in Iraq despite this step.

Ms. Rice also conferred with Prime Minister Marek Belka, who served for several months in 2003 and last year as the chief financial adviser to the American-led occupation in Baghdad.

American officials say that Russia, seen by many in Poland as a historic antagonist, has been a primary focus of all Polish-American discussions in recent years, especially as Polish leaders watched with anxiety the Russian intervention in the Ukrainian election last year.

But Ms. Rice noted that after the difficulty in Ukraine, Russia moved quickly to establish close relations with the government of Viktor A. Yushchenko as soon as it became clear that he would serve as Ukraine's president.

Russia, she said, would be "aided by the growth of democratic movements and by party building and the growth of civil society in Russia," trends that the United States can encourage by working with Russia and also working to help it join the World Trade Organization so it can integrate itself with the global economy.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

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