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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin and Rice Agree To Cool Rhetoric

President Vladimir Putin and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice agreed on Tuesday to soften the increasingly aggressive rhetoric between Moscow and Washington.

But at the same time, Rice and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov appeared to ratchet the war of words up a notch by bluntly refusing to give any ground over Kosovo and U.S. plans to build a missile defense shield in Central Europe.

"[Putin] supported the understanding by the American side that rhetoric in public exchanges should be toned down, and we should focus on concrete issues," Lavrov said after talks between Putin and Rice.

Lavrov added that the Russian side had refused to bend in its opposition toward the missile shield.

Rice retorted that the United States would not permit Russia to veto its plans. "The United States needs to be able to move forward to use technology to defend itself and we're going to do that," Rice told reporters after the meeting. "I don't think that anyone expects the United States to permit somehow a veto on American security interests."

Lavrov said both sides agreed to search for a mutually acceptable solution with regard to their disagreement over whether Kosovo should be granted effective independence. But Rice told Ekho Moskvy radio in an interview that Kosovo would never again be a part of Serbia.

Rice, speaking with NTV television, promised that the United States would not try to influence the outcome of parliamentary elections in December and the presidential vote next March. She also said the United States wanted to continue helping develop nongovernmental organizations in Russia.

At a joint news conference with Lavrov late Tuesday, she said she had been very interested in discussing Russian domestic policy and the upcoming elections with both Lavrov and Putin. She expressed hope that "Russia's transition to a democratic system will intensify."

Rice wrapped up a two-day visit to discuss growing rifts between Moscow and Washington ahead of Putin's meeting next month with U.S. President George W. Bush at a G8 summit in Germany. Rice's visit was clouded by unusually high tensions seen by some to echo the days of the Cold War.

Rice also held talks with five NGO and business leaders.

The meeting with Putin at the president's Novo-Ogaryovo residence lasted roughly an hour.

The atmosphere of the talks was "very cordial and sincere," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. Novo-Ogaryovo is often chosen as a venue when the Kremlin wishes to stress the informal nature of talks.

Peskov said Putin renewed his concerns on the key disputes of the missile shield and Kosovo.

"But there were not just disagreements on the agenda. There was also appreciation by both sides that there is a dialog going on between our countries," he said.

Lavrov said Rice and Putin agreed to preserve a U.S.-Russian initiative on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons while accepting the rights of certain states to own peaceful nuclear energy.

Relations soured after Putin sharply criticized U.S. foreign policy in February, accusing Washington of imposing its will on the rest of the world. Putin sent further shock waves across the Atlantic by apparently drawing a comparison between the United States and Nazi Germany in his Victory Day address on Red Square last week.

Rice told a U.S. Senate meeting in Washington late last week that she was concerned about a rollback in Russian democracy. But en route to Moscow, she stressed that comparisons with the Cold War were exaggerated.

Peskov indicated that the rhetoric on both sides might be linked to the upcoming election season. Russia has parliamentary and presidential elections within the next 10 months, while the United States has a presidential election next year. Peskov said both sides discussed how rhetoric in election campaigns can sometimes infringe on bilateral relations.

Rice on Tuesday also called for a diversification of energy export routes. She spoke in response to a question on Ekho Moskvy about the deal clinched by Putin last weekend for a new pipeline to ship Turkmen gas to Russia via Kazakhstan. The United States had hoped for an alternative route that would bypass Russia.

Besides her meetings with the Russian leadership, Rice sat down with five representatives of Russia's civil society and business community, including Irina Yasina of the Open Russia foundation and Konstantin Remchukov, the owner and editor of Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

Yasina, whose foundation was founded by former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky, told Ekho Moskvy that she was the only critical voice at the meeting.

Yasina said she had conveyed her concerns to Rice about an investigation into Manana Aslamazian, the head of the Educated Media Foundation, and authorities' refusal to transfer Khodorkovsky from Chita to a Moscow detention facility despite a court decision.

The others at the meeting were quite upbeat in their assessment of the situation of human rights in Russia, Yasina said.

Remchukov said he had assured Rice that he faced no pressure from authorities over his newspaper's coverage. He did acknowledge, however, that national television channels and "central radio stations" were under "more strict control" by the state than print media, Ekho Moskvy reported.

Igor Yurgens, first vice president at Renaissance Capital, also took part in the meeting, Regnum reported.