Rice offers ideas for better Russia

ANKARA, Turkey – Russia needs to show a commitment to a free press and other “basics of democracy,” and cooperate with former Soviet republics such as Georgia and Ukraine where democracy is taking hold, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Saturday.

Rice, moving quickly through Europe on her first trip as President Bush’s chief diplomat, also said European diplomats seem eager to put in the past the estrangement caused by the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Polish Foreign Minister Adam Rotfeld said as much after meeting with Rice in Warsaw. Poland was an early and durable participant in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. But the stationing of Polish troops there has proved unpopular at home and with Poland’s neighbors.

“The unfortunate concept of old and new Europe is a total misunderstanding,” Rotfeld said.

His comment was a reference to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s distinction between opposition in France, Germany and elsewhere to the Bush administration’s policy on Iraq and help provided by nations such as Poland.

The description of France and Germany as part of “old Europe” caused bad blood in the run-up to the 2003 invasion.

Russia, also critical of the war, has retreated during President Vladimir Putin’s tenure from some of the democratic advances since the collapse of communist rule. Putin has consolidated economic and political power and clamped down on the press.

“We have concerns, and we’ve made it clear, about internal developments in Russia,” Rice said in Poland.

“It is important that Russia make clear to the world that it is intent on strengthening the rule of law, strengthening the role of the independent judiciary, permitting a free and independent press to flourish,” Rice said. “These are all the basics of democracy.”

She said Russia is a valuable ally and partner in many areas, including the fight against terrorism and efforts to curtail the spread of nuclear arms.

“We’ve made no secret” of U.S. displeasure, Rice told reporters en route to Turkey. “But we’re not going to stop working on it, we haven’t stopped talking about it.”

Rice’s eight-day trip is focusing on European ties and the prospects for peace in the Middle East. An additional goal is laying the groundwork for Bush’s summit meeting with Putin on Feb. 24 in Slovakia. That was one reason for her lengthy dinner meeting Saturday in Ankara with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The backsliding of democracy in Russia could become an irritant in Bush’s second term and a sour note as the White House presses for expansion of liberty in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Bush’s inaugural speech last month contained what was perceived as a warning by some nations, including allies or partners with imperfect democratic credentials.

“We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation: The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right,” Bush said.

Rice said the United States had made its concerns clear to Russia even before that speech Jan. 20, and she reaffirmed that the address was not intended to represent a dramatic change in policy toward allies such as Saudi Arabia.

The United States wants to see Russia support “democratic processes elsewhere,” including in its own backyard, Rice said. She said it is encouraging that after a rough start, Russia has reached out to the newly elected Ukrainian president and has improved ties with Georgia.


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