February 22, 2007 / 8:21 AM / in 11 years

Russia, U.S. officials seek to play down differences

MOSCOW (Reuters) - U.S. and Russian officials sought on Thursday to play down their differences in talks on global security but a more conciliatory tone was not expected to fix U.S.-Russian relations which are at their lowest ebb in years.

The visit to Moscow by U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley came against the backdrop of a speech by President Vladimir Putin that accused Washington of imposing its will on the world with dangerous policies.

“We do not consider President Putin’s speech as an invitation to confrontation and do not think that his speech was intended that way,” Interfax news agency quoted Hadley as saying in reference to Putin’s speech in Munich on February 10.

Russia’s concerns include U.S. plans to place a radar system and missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic, NATO expansion, the war in Iraq and a growing confrontation between Washington and Tehran over Iran’s nuclear program.

Addressing Russian Security Council head Igor Ivanov earlier at the Kremlin, Hadley offered to work together to remove problems in relations.

Ivanov responded ”It does not mean that our relations are cloudless. We have disagreements and misunderstandings, including in the sphere of security.

“That is why it’s important that our dialogue stays active and continues to develop which would allow us to remove these questions and avoid harming our bilateral relations.”

DIVISIONS ON MISSILE SHIELD

But Moscow and Washington had little to put on the negotiating table to ease splits over a number of issues ranging from the Middle East to Kosovo, diplomatic analysts said.

“Contradictions between the United States and Russia are deep and they cannot disappear at this stage,” said Boris Makarenko, a political analyst.

“Relations have cooled down to their minimum but the two sides are trying to show that ties will not fall below the required minimum of bilateral cooperation, such as security issues, non-proliferation and the fight against terrorism.”

The talks in Moscow came a day after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rejected Moscow’s criticism of U.S. plans to place a radar system and missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic as “extremely unfortunate”.

Russia sees the system as encroaching on its former sphere of influence. Putin described the plan as a threat to Russia’s national security.

Hadley’s visit could also be part of U.S. efforts to soften mutual suspicions at a time when the United States might require Russian support in a row over Iran’s nuclear ambitions escalates, analysts said.

Earlier this week, senior U.S. lawmaker Tom Lantos struck a similarly conciliatory tone during his visit to Moscow.

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