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US-Russia Relations Under Microscope

A top U.S. diplomat says Washington is puzzled and concerned by some recent Russian statements and actions -- but wants to work with Moscow to address problems. The diplomat's comment came on a day when lawmakers at two Congressional hearings examined U.S. relations with Russia and the future of Russian democracy. More from VOA's Bill Rodgers.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's words and actions in recent months have caused concern in Washington. Differences have arisen over issues such as missile defense and Russian government attempts to suppress internal dissent.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, State Department official Daniel Fried spoke about the relationship. "Russia today is not the Soviet Union. As President Bush has said, 'The Cold War is over.' But the world has recently witnessed statements and initiatives from Russia that puzzle and concern us."

Among those concerns are comments from the Kremlin threatening to suspend Russian obligations under the CFE -- an arms control treaty. Also, Russia's opposition to U.S. plans to install a missile defense system in Eastern Europe to prevent attacks from rogue states.

Another worry is suppression of anti-government protests and curbing press freedom. Fried vowed Washington will continue to press Moscow on those issues. "We must simultaneously advance our interest and values, pushing back when necessary while seeking to broaden and deepen cooperation with Russia."

Meanwhile, members of Russia's parliament, or Duma, attended a special hearing held by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The Russian and U.S. lawmakers exchanged views on issues such as democracy and human rights.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi welcomed the Russian representatives. "It's a great day for us when our two parliaments, your Duma, and our Congress, manifested by the Committee on Foreign Affairs on our part and your Duma's appropriate committee, can come together to communicate on matters of great importance," she said.

Speaker Pelosi handed out gifts to the Russian visitors. Later, the head of the Duma's foreign affairs committee, Konstantin Kosachev spoke of the need for better understanding. But he also objected to criticism of Russia by what he called "one-sided sources." "We're always grateful for constructive criticism when it is justified. However, in some cases, this criticism is based on unilateral one-sided sources, subjective sources. And we can't accept such criticism especially if it becomes some kind of personal characterizations which are unacceptable, especially when they are directed at the head of the Russian government, we do not accept this kind of criticism under any circumstances."

Despite the tensions, Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin remain on friendly personal terms. Mr. Putin is scheduled to visit the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, early next month where the two leaders will likely use the informal setting to discuss outstanding issues, including a Russian proposal aimed at resolving differences over the missile defense system.