Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Powell, Ivanov Ready to Play Ball

CAIRO, Egypt — In an amicable first meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov pledged over the weekend a constructive approach to dealing with Iraq, missile defenses and other points of policy discord.

Powell, draping an arm over Ivanov's shoulder, described the first encounter Saturday between the Bush administration and the year-old government of President Vladimir Putin as "very, very excellent."

"I am also satisfied with the meeting," Ivanov said in Russian. "We had a very constructive first dialogue. We exchanged our views on a number of important international issues."

But the congeniality displayed by Powell and Ivanov, who met alone for 90 minutes and agreed to call each other by their first names, masked the increasingly lopsided relations between Washington and Moscow.

Ivanov jokingly conceded that any notion that the two countries will be able to resolve their differences soon was unrealistic.

"If you think we managed to resolve all our differences at our first meeting that would be good, but it would exceed our expectations," Ivanov said.

The two foreign policy chiefs agreed to reconvene working groups of specialists, set up under the Clinton administration, to discuss both offensive weapons and defensive systems. But this incremental step forward was overshadowed by huge differences in substance.

No issue reflects the attitude of the new U.S. administration and Russia's growing suspicion of U.S. intentions more than national missile defense. The two governments have been sparring for months over the proposed $60 billion plan to build a shield to protect the United States from a missile attack.

Over the past week, Moscow has attempted to offer an alternative plan that might, at a minimum, make Russia a party to a missile defense system rather than exclude it altogether.

En route to Cairo, however, Powell described the plan, presented by Putin to NATO Secretary-General George Robertson last week, as "interesting'' but noted that it would involve "a different kind of system.''

Rather than welcome Russia's effort to find some compromise by offering an alternative for a nonstrategic missile defense for Europe, the Bush administration heralded the proposal largely because it implied Moscow's acceptance that the threat of missile strikes by so-called rogue nations does exist.

"Their words indicate that they recognize that there are new threats in the post-Cold War era, threats that require a theater-based antiballistic missile system,'' President Bush said Thursday at his first news conference.

Underlying the two countries' differences on specifics is a more fundamental recent shift in attitude. In Washington, the issue debated during the Clinton administration was "Who lost Russia?''

Under the Bush administration, experts contend, the attitude seems to be "Who needs Russia?''

The initial policy statements mark a major shift from the Clinton's administration's description of Russia as a strategic partner and its funneling of aid to help entrench the country's young democracy.

Interestingly, the one issue not on Powell and Ivanov's agenda was the arrest of alleged spy Robert Philip Hanssen, who is charged with having passed information to Moscow for 15 years in one of the most damaging cases of espionage in U.S. history. En route to Cairo, Powell said the case is being handled through "other channels.''

Ivanov and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, in separate meetings with Powell in Cairo on Saturday, concurred with the Bush administration that Iraq should be prevented from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, but Mubarak held to the Arab view that U.S.-backed sanctions were hurting the Iraqi people, said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Powell labeled Saddam Hussein a threat to children in the Middle East and "the cause of problems" in the troubled region.

Ivanov was silent.

Later, Powell said Mubarak will visit Bush in Washington on April 2.

Russia, France and China — Iraq's key supporters on the UN Security Council — all have said the recent airstrikes were unprovoked and would damage international efforts to resolve the sanctions issue.

Moscow also has resisted U.S. efforts at the United Nations to force Saddam to abide by his war's end promise on weapons development.

"We continue to look for points of coinciding interests," Ivanov said, pledging a constructive dialogue.

Powell said the United States "will always try to consult with our friends in the region so that they are not surprised and do everything we can to explain the purpose of our presence."

Saturday night, Powell flew to Jerusalem for his first meetings with Israelis and Palestinians on ending violence that has taken more than 400 lives in five months.

After talks with Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, Powell on Sunday called on the two sides to end the cycle of violence and pledged Washington under the Bush administration would continue to play a leadership role in seeking peace.

Powell also flew to Jordan and Kuwait on Sunday and was due to visit Syria and Saudi Arabia before wrapping up his first Middle East tour as secretary of state on Tuesday.

(AP, LAT, Reuters)