Rice says U.S. won't isolate Russia for democratic lapses

But crackdown on dissent makes it `more difficult'


ANKARA, Turkey -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a top Russian envoy yesterday that Moscow's crackdown on dissent was making Russian-American relations "more difficult," a State Department official said. But Rice also signaled in public that the United States would not try to isolate Russia because of its actions.

The State Department official, speaking after a dinner between Rice and Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov, said the secretary noted Russia's steps to take over independent television, seize the oil company Yukos and arrest its leaders, and remove powers from state governors.

He said Rice made the expression of American concerns more central to the discussion than previous American officials had with the Russians in the past.

"These things do make it more difficult to pursue a full and deep relationship," Rice told Lavrov, according to the official, who spoke at a briefing under State Department ground rules that required anonymity because of the confidential nature of the session being described.

Earlier yesterday, Rice acknowledged to reporters on her plane here that Russia had recently fallen backward on democracy and democratic reforms but that the government of President Vladimir V. Putin would not be punished or isolated by an American cutoff of cooperation in a variety of other areas.

Those comments were the most recent indication that President Bush's inaugural vow to spread freedom in the world did not signify an extensive change in America's approach with certain countries.

Rice said Bush's inaugural address would lead to American officials raising the issue but only in the context of other cooperative ventures, many of which she said would involve integrating Russia with democratic trends in the West.

"To the degree that the emphasis continues to grow in American policy and rhetoric about democracy and the importance of it, of course it becomes a central part of every discussion we have around the world," Rice said to reporters on her plane here from Warsaw, Poland.

But she also emphasized that cooperation with Russia had led to progress in combating terrorism, stabilizing Afghanistan and Iraq, and to Russian willingness -- despite deep misgivings -- to accept new democratic but somewhat anti-Russian governments in Ukraine this year and in Georgia after a popular uprising in the fall of 2003.

"On the matter of domestic trends in Russia, yes, I think those have been less favorable in recent times," Rice said. "We've made no secret of that, but we're not going to stop working at it. We haven't stopped talking about it, and I think it continues to be an important part of our dialogue."

She said Bush's inaugural address should not be seen as suggesting a "clean break" with the past but rather building on policies under way.

On the second full day of her weeklong trip to Europe and the Middle East, Rice churned through meetings in three countries -- first with civic and opinion leaders in Germany, then with Polish leaders during a three-hour stop in Warsaw, and finally last night in a brief meeting with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and the dinner with Lavrov.

Today, she is to meet with more Turkish leaders to discuss their concerns about the deteriorating security situation in neighboring Iraq, and then she plans to fly to Israel for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Rice acknowledged that she would listen to Turkish concerns and assure leaders here that the United States supports the territorial unity of Iraq and opposes any effort to break away by Kurds in the north. Turks fear that if the Kurds separate or gain autonomy, it will encourage the uprising of Kurds in the east of Turkey.

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