Moscow agrees to tone down anti-US rhetoric

Russia is to tone down its increasingly harsh anti-US rhetoric but the two countries failed in talks on Tuesday to make any progress on the issues that divide them – including Kosovo and missile defence.

As Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, ended talks with Vladimir Putin at the Russian president’s residence outside Moscow, she brushed off concerns that US missile defence plans posed a threat to Russia’s security.

“The US needs to move forward to use technology to defend itself and we’re going to do that,” Ms Rice said after the talks. “I don’t think that anyone expects the US to permit a veto on American security interests.”

Relations between the two countries have been strained by US plans to base components of a missile interceptor system near Russia’s borders, in Poland and the Czech Republic, prompting talk on both sides of the Atlantic of a new cold war.

Mr Putin appeared indirectly to compare the US to the Third Reich in a speech to veterans of the second world war during a Victory Day parade last week. His comments prompted a flurry of transatlantic phone calls and claims from the foreign ministry that the president’s remarks had been misinterpreted.

Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said Moscow had agreed public criticism should be toned down. “[Mr Putin] supported the understanding by the American side that rhetoric in public exchanges should be toned down and we should focus on concrete issues,” he said after the talks.

“The rhetoric is not helpful. It is disturbing to Americans who are trying to do [their] best to maintain an even relationship,” Ms Rice said.

But the two nations failed to find common ground on a United Nations plan to grant independence to Kosovo. Mr Putin and Ms Rice agreed to look for a “mutually acceptable solution”. However, Mr Lavrov said such solutions “are not immediately in sight”.

The talks with Ms Rice came as Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s foreign minister, arrived in Moscow in an attempt to defuse tension – following disputes with Poland and Lithuania – ahead of Friday’s EU-Russia summit.

He and Mr Putin ended talks by saying the EU and Russia were not at loggerheads despite a veto by Poland on strategic partnership negotiations.

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