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Rice to Go to Moscow for Talks on Missile Defense, Kosovo

The U.S. State Department said Monday Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will visit Moscow next week for talks on problem issues including Kosovo and U.S. missile defense plans for central Europe. She will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and perhaps also President Vladimir Putin. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Rice's visit comes amid conflict between the two powers on several issues, though U.S. officials say tensions are by no means comparable to those of the Cold War era.

The Bush administration has angered Russia with plans to put 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a related radar system in the Czech Republic intended to protect against a possible missile threat from Iran.

Moscow has yet to be persuaded by U.S. arguments that the plan poses no threat to its strategic nuclear deterrent. Late last month, in apparent response, Russia said it was suspending its role in the 1990's treaty limiting conventional forces in central Europe.

However administration officials say they're not taking Moscow's position as its final word, and believe it may yet take up the U.S. offer of information-sharing, and perhaps even Russian participation, in the anti-missile project.

Similarly, they say they believe the Kremlin may still support a U.N. Security Council resolution for a Kosovo settlement based on the peace place plan of U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari.

Serbia, Moscow's traditional ally, adamantly opposes Mr. Ahtisaari's plan for supervised independence for the secessionist Serbian province and Russia has said it would not accept a solution rejected by Belgrade.

However, in a talk with reporters Friday, Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia Dan Fried said the administration looks forward to working with Russia on a Kosovo formula that protects the interests of the province's Serb minority in a "lasting and genuine" way:

"Ahtisaari's plan is often commented on by people who have not looked at it," said Dan Fried. "And those who condemn it need to read it because most of Ahtisaari's plan involves very detailed provisions to protect the Serbian community, the Serbian churches and their lands, the monasteries, and provides very strong and detailed guarantees for that community in the future. It is a good plan."

Fried would not rule out possible alterations to the plan in Security Council negotiations. He said the international community must move ahead on Kosovo and that there is no going back to 1999, when a NATO air campaign drove out Serb forces conducting a brutal crackdown on majority Albanians.

The province has since been administered by the United Nations. The Ahtisaari plan would give Kosovo most of the trappings of independence though NATO troops would remain to provide security, perhaps for several years.

The Rice Moscow visit is also expected to include discussion of Middle East peace efforts, the Iran nuclear issue and the development of democracy in Russia, which U.S. officials say has been clouded by Kremlin moves against opposition politicians and news media.

It is aimed in part at laying groundwork for the meeting of Presidents Bush and Putin at next month's G-8 summit meeting in Germany.