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US-Russia Relationship Remains Strong, Agree Putin and Powell - 2004-01-26


Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell say the U.S.-Russian relationship remains strong, despite some disagreements. The two leaders held broad discussions Monday on a host of issues in the bilateral relationship, as well as key international issues.

President Putin says he is confident that Russia's relations with the United States will remain, stable and predictable.

Russian news agencies report that during talks in the Kremlin on Monday, Mr. Putin said the foundation of the U.S.-Russian relationship is so strong that it can withstand what he called temporary differences.

In a televised portion of the meeting, President Putin said officials from both sides would continue to work together to address key issues on the bilateral agenda, such as fighting terrorism, working on nuclear non-proliferation and securing peace and stability around the world.

President Putin says Russia and the United States are working together well in trade, economic cooperation and fighting global terrorism, especially in Afghanistan.

On Iraq, President Putin reiterated Moscow's view that the United Nations should become more involved in the country's reconstruction.

Secretary Powell told reporters he and Russian leaders also discussed ways to reduce Iraq's debts.

Mr. Powell said the future of Iraq was the main topic of his talks with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. The Secretary of State also said U.S. intelligence assessments gave solid reasons to believe that ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

"This is a danger that the world should not be facing after twelve years of U.N. resolutions telling him to get rid of such weapons," he said. "The work of the inspectors, the U.S. inspectors working alongside our military forces, continues."

Secretary Powell also expressed U.S. satisfaction with the development of U.S.-Russian relations in several areas, including the implementation of the Moscow Treaty on the reduction of offensive strategic weapons. The treaty, which was ratified in 2002, calls for both sides to reduce their strategic nuclear arsenals by two-thirds.

But in other areas, Mr. Powell signaled U.S. displeasure.

In a front-page article under his by-line published in the Russian daily Izvestia on Monday, Secretary Powell expressed unease about the slow development of the rule of law in Russia. He said political power in Russia is not yet fully tethered to law. Many observers have criticized the Russian government's handling of the Yukos case, which involves the prosecution of a rich businessman, who was also supporting President Putin's opponents in the recent parliamentary elections.

In the Izvestia article, Secretary Powell also challenged Russia's policy on Chechnya, saying certain aspects of Russian internal policy in the southern Russian republic give the United States cause for concern. But he provided no details.

Mr. Powell arrived in Russia from Georgia, where he attended the inauguration of President Mikhail Saakashvili. On Monday in Moscow, according to Russian news reports, he fulfilled a promise to Mr. Saakashvili by re-stating Washington's desire to see Russia withdraw from its remaining two Soviet-era military bases in Georgia.

The issue has been a source of tension between Moscow and Tbilisi, with Russia saying it will need as much as ten years to withdraw. Georgia is hoping for a quicker pullout, within the next three years.

Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov said Monday that Russia and Georgia would return to the military base issue as soon as the new Georgian government is formed. That is expected within the next ten days. At around the same time, Russia is scheduled to host the new Georgian president in Moscow.

On Tuesday, Secretary Powell is scheduled to meet Russian business leaders and the speaker of Russia's state Duma, the lower house of parliament Boris Gryzlov before returning to Washington.

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