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US to Continue Push for Pluralism in Russia

A senior State Department official said Friday the United States has not given up on democratic reform in Russia, and will continue to do what it can to promote pluralism there. Top Bush administration cabinet members go to Moscow late next week for a wide-ranging dialogue. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The unusual joint visit to Moscow by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates follows this week's suggestion by Russian President Vladimir Putin that he might retain power after his term ends next year by becoming prime minister.

But Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Daniel Fried is rejecting a Washington Post report Friday that the development has caused the Bush administration to all but abandon hopes of influencing Russia's internal direction.

Briefing reporters on next week's so-called "two-plus-two" meetings of Secretaries Rice and Gates and their Russian counterparts, Fried said promoting pluralist democratic institutions has been and will continue to be a key part of the U.S. agenda with Russia.

"Russia's fate is going to be decided by Russians. But the United States has a great interest in Russia's future. We do speak out about this. We make our views known. We do, as Secretary Rice says, our best to nurture and support independent civil society in Russia. We don't hide that. We're proud of our efforts and will continue to do so," he said.

Fried cited concern expressed last week by Secretary Rice about the concentration of power in the Kremlin, and the lack of what she termed "countervailing institutions."

The Assistant Secretary said the United States has no objection to the prospect of a strong Russia, but believes that a Russia with strong independent institutions and internal checks and balances would be, as he put it, "a better partner for us and a better player in the world."

Presidents Bush and Putin agreed in July on the "two-plus-two" meeting to deal with problems on the bilateral agenda including Russian objections to a U.S. plan to install elements of a regional missile defense system, aimed against Iran, in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Russia contends the system would undermine its strategic nuclear deterrence and has threatened to withdraw by December from a post-Cold War conventional arms limitation agreement for Central Europe.

At the same time though, Russia has proposed an alternate anti-missile plan that would incorporate a Russian-operated radar site in Azerbaijan. Fried said the U.S. finds the Russian proposal "interesting and forward looking" and believes there may be grounds for cooperation.

"We have told the Russians that their proposal to offer up a radar site in Azerbaijan, the Gabala radar site, and perhaps a radar site in southern Russia itself, opened up a possibility of having genuinely-collaborative efforts on missile defense, directed at common problems. And we would like to see the whole question opened up as it were, with everything on the table: what NATO is doing, what the United States, Poles and Czechs may be doing, what Russia is prepared to offer. So this is a very far-reaching proposal by the Russians that opens up some very good potential areas of cooperation," he said.

The bilateral dialogue is also expected to cover the future status of Kosovo. Russia has supported Serbia in its opposition to independence for the majority ethnic-Albanian Serbian province.

But Moscow is also a co-sponsor with the United States and the European Union of negotiations between Serbian and Kosovar officials that began last week, aimed at resolving the issue before a December 10 United Nations deadline.

Fried discounted the idea that a U.S.-Russian collision over the issue is inevitable, and said U.S. officials "very much hope" for a resolution of Kosovo's final status that is "practical, serious, and takes the region forward."