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In Moscow, Rice And Gates Meet With Russian Dissidents And Military

October 13, 2007 (RFE/RL) - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates delivered a two-pronged message to Russia today, offering U.S. support for democratic dissidents and military cooperation with Moscow to take on common threats.

Rice, meeting with Russian human rights activists, asked what the United States can do to help them build institutions to safeguard universal democratic values. And Gates, talking with young Russian officers, said Washington hopes to work more closely with the Russian military to face common security threats.

Gathered at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Moscow, Rice asked eight human rights leaders how their work is progressing at a time when democratic values have come under fire in Russia.

She said the United States wants to help Russia build strong institutions respectful of universal values. Rice said these values were the rights of individuals to liberty and freedom, the right to worship, the right to assembly, and the right not to have to deal with the "arbitrary power of the state."

Array Of Activists

The activists included Lyudmila Alekseyeva of the Moscow Helsinki Group. “I told Rice that Russia human rights activists would like Western leaders visiting Russia and meeting Russian leaders to raise human rights issues not only in private conversations but also publicly," Alekseyeva said.

Also attending were Tatyana Lokshina of the DEMOS Center, Svetlana Gannushkina of the Civic Assistance committee for refugees and forced migrants, and Aleksandr Brod of the Moscow Human Rights Bureau. Also present was Russia's state human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin.

Meanwhile, in a speech at the Russian Military Academy of the General Staff, Gates emphasized that the two countries confront similar security challenges. He said he wants to create a "climate of trust and transparency" as both countries take on critical "geopolitical issues of the day." Gates also reassured Russia that the Pentagon will not put bases in Georgia and Ukraine, but criticized Moscow for arms sales to Iran and Syria.

Gates and Rice, on the last day of their two-day visit to Moscow, later discussed bilateral relations with Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov.

Their visit has been dominated by efforts to settle a bitter U.S.-Russian dispute over U.S. missile defense plans for Eastern Europe. Washington says the missile shield would help counter possible attacks from rogue states such as Iran.

On October 12, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said talks with the visiting American delegation failed to produce an agreement on the planned U.S. missile shield in former Soviet satellites Poland and the Czech Republic.

Missile Defense Disagreement

"We still have differences in the assessment of the missile-proliferation threat that the global missile-defense system is being proposed against,” Lavrov said. “And we agreed that experts would concentrate efforts primarily on trying to work out a common understanding of existing threats."

Russia has said it sees the U.S. plan as a threat, and has instead proposed use of a Russian-operated radar in Azerbaijan.

Rice and Gates also had talks with the Russian President Vladimir Putin on October 12. But they failed to reach a compromise on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), with Putin reiterating that Russia may quit the treaty unless it was expanded to embrace other countries. The treaty, signed in 1987, bans U.S. and Russian short- and medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe.

Rice and Gates also leave Moscow empty-handed on another major source of friction -- Russia's unwillingness to back U.S.-led sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, which the United States and its Western allies suspect is a cover to develop nuclear weapons.

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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