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Powell Is Upbeat After Talks With Russia's Putin

Following tensions over Iraq, the U.S. secretary of State says the nations will now work together.

May 15, 2003|Robin Wright and David Holley | Times Staff Writers

MOSCOW — After months of simmering tension over Iraq, relations between the United States and Russia are back on track, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said after talks here Wednesday with President Vladimir V. Putin.

The two nations will now work "in a spirit of partnership" on a new U.N. resolution to sort out basic political and economic questions on postwar Iraq, Powell told reporters. The United States is pressing for a vote as early as next week, according to U.N. sources, although Washington and Moscow have yet to agree on a draft.

On the day Russia's parliament ratified a nuclear arms control accord with the U.S., Putin said the schism between the two countries was ending.

"We have had a lot of arguments recently concerning the Iraq problem. But we have successfully overcome those differences," Putin said in greeting Powell.

Putin is scheduled to host a summit with President Bush in St. Petersburg from May 30 to June 1, when heads of state or government from as many as 47 countries will be in the city.

"I hope that the upcoming meeting with President Bush will give a further impetus to the successful development, across-the-board development, of our bilateral relations in all areas," Putin said.

In addition to the unresolved issue of the Iraq resolution, the United States and Russia differ on whether U.N. inspectors should return to Iraq to search for weapons of mass destruction. Still, a new spirit of cooperation permeated Powell's visit, part of a weeklong tour of the Middle East and Europe.

"With respect to Iraq, there are some outstanding issues, and we will be working these issues in a spirit of partnership and trying to come to a solution," Powell told reporters.

"We will be working closely in the days ahead to see if we can come to agreement with our other Security Council partners in passing a resolution that we will use to help the people of Iraq live a better life," he said.

In a mark of Russia's desire to repair ties, the State Duma, or lower house of parliament, ratified the landmark pact that will slash arsenals of deployed nuclear weapons by about two-thirds in a decade. The vote was 294 to 134, with 226 votes required for approval.

The treaty, signed by Bush and Putin last year, was approved by the U.S. Senate in March, but Russian action was delayed by lawmakers intent on showing their anger at the decision to attack Iraq.

Urging lawmakers to approve the treaty, Putin on Wednesday called it "an extremely important document in the field of strategic stability."

"Its provisions enable us to develop our strategic forces at the level of reasonable sufficiency, taking into account both the economic potential of the country and the dynamics of the military and political situation in the world," Putin said.

Powell expressed a "deep sense of satisfaction" that he was in Moscow the day the treaty was confirmed. He also praised the pact, telling reporters, "Not only does it lessen the number of nuclear weapons, but it shows how the United States and the Russian Federation can work together on issues important to the world."

Russia's cooperation with Iran in developing that country's nuclear power capabilities, which the U.S. fears is in turn assisting a weapons program, was another key focus of Powell's talks. The United States says Iran is conducting a clandestine nuclear weapons program.

"I think we have a better understanding of one another's concerns and we've come a little closer as to how we should deal with our concerns," he said.

Russia has been helping Iran build a 1,000-megawatt light-water reactor in the western port of Bushehr and has considered more such projects.

Washington believes that the Bushehr project, estimated to cost $800 million, is a cover for obtaining sensitive technologies to develop nuclear weapons. It also suspects that Russian scientists, without government approval, are helping Iran with a nuclear weapons program.

Washington wants Moscow to curtail its nuclear cooperation, tighten controls and support a tougher stance toward Iran.

In recent months, Russian officials have begun to back away from their previous insistence that Iran's nuclear program is entirely peaceful, although they still say there is nothing improper about the Bushehr project.

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