Rice attacks ‘reprehensible’ Putin warnings

Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, on Wednesday highlighted the tense relations between Moscow and Washington when she hit out at Russia’s “reprehensible” rhetoric and said she would appoint a special energy co-ordinator for central Asia, a region dominated to date by Russian energy interests.

Appearing at the Senate’s foreign relations committee, Ms Rice responded fiercely to questions about recent Russian behaviour, including President Vladimir Putin’s suggestion this week that Ukraine could be targeted with nuclear missiles and his warning of a new arms race with the west.

“The unhelpful and, really, I will use a different word, reprehensible rhetoric that is coming out of Moscow is unacceptable,” Ms Rice said.

Relations between Moscow and Washington have hardened in the wake of disputes over Russia’s objections to proposed US missile defence bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, as well as US concerns about what it sees as Mr Putin’s use of intimidation at home and abroad.

But the US secretary of state emphasised that she believed the principal areas of difficulty related to the post-cold war map of Europe – on issues such as North Korea and Iran, the two countries co-operated much more closely.

“The Soviet Union . . . is gone forever, and I hope that Russia understands that,” she said. “We are absolutely devoted to the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine and of other states that were once a part of the Soviet Union.”

Ms Rice was prodded by Richard Lugar, the committee’s ranking Republican, to respond to Russian initiatives with countries such as Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Serbia and Bulgaria that seem to have cemented Moscow’s position as gas supplier to the rest of Europe.

“I do intend to appoint, and we are looking for, a special energy co-ordinator who could especially spend time on the central Asian and Caspian region,” she replied. “It is a really important part of diplomacy. In fact, I think I would go so far as to say that some of the politics of energy is warping diplomacy in certain parts of the world.”

Privately, many US officials complain that the European Union has not made a more effective attempt to build relations with the central Asian countries that provide Russia with an increasingly important part of its gas supply, or to forge a common policy on Russia.

In other comments, Ms Rice said that the US and Nato’s development and counter-insurgency effort in Afghanistan, which has been widely criticised in recent weeks, was “not as good as it needs to be”. She emphasised the US’s call for other Nato countries to step up, both in providing troops and forging a more coherent development strategy.

Joseph Biden, committee chairman, praised Ms Rice’s promise that an agreement to be negotiated with Iraq would contain no security guarantees. He had previously said that it could “bind” the next administration into a large troop presence in the country.

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