Rice Meets Russian Counterpart Amid Tension

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held her first meeting Wednesday with Russia's foreign minister since Moscow's invasion of Georgia. But the relationship between the U.S. and Russia remains tense.

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

OK. Think of the last time that an old acquaintance did something that you thought was awful, and then you had to see that person again. That might suggest the position of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She met her counterpart from Russia. It was the first meeting since Russia invaded its neighbor, Georgia. The United Nations session brought the leaders together, like it or not. And NPR's Michele Kelemen has more from New York.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Condoleezza Rice and Sergey Lavrov gave only a forced handshake at the start of their meeting, just to get rid of the journalists crowding Rice's hotel suite.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: So that they'll go away, shall we shake hands and then...

KELEMEN: Still, U.S. officials came out saying the talks were constructive. And Foreign Minister Lavrov said he's sensing a bit more pragmatism out of the Bush administration after what he called America's emotional reaction to the conflict in Georgia. But speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, he did make clear that he was annoyed that the U.S. called off meetings this week that were to have included Russia.

SERGEY LAVROV: We can't really have it both ways, punishing Russia by canceling some of the meetings and some of the formats which are really important for the entire world, and at the same time demanding from Russia to cooperate on the issue which is of crucial importance to you in particular.

KELEMEN: Iran is the perfect example. Lavrov said he discussed that broadly with Rice, though the two didn't talk about any new sanctions. They also touched on North Korea.

LAVROV: We want to resolve peacefully both situations, and it would be just irresponsible if because of some disagreements on the Caucasus, our country's should drop these overriding goals.

KELEMEN: But differences over the conflict in Georgia are deep and remain, according to Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried who was also in the meeting.

DANIEL FRIED: The fact is Russia has, by invading Georgia and then recognizing the independence of these tiny breakaway areas, has created grave difficulties for itself that cannot be wished away.

KELEMEN: Fried said that it hasn't been a great month and a half in U.S.-Russian relations. But he said the meeting between Rice and Lavrov was polite and professional, and there was not any shouting, table pounding, or histrionics. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, New York.

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