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Rice Lectures Lavrov On Georgia Moves


NEW YORK (Reuters) -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has told Moscow's foreign minister that Russia's incursion into Georgia last month was a big mistake and had harmed its reputation internationally.

In a tense but polite encounter -- their first since the Georgia crisis -- Rice had a "thorough exchange" with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, said the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European affairs, Daniel Fried.

"The disagreements were quite clear," said Fried, who attended the meeting with Rice at her New York hotel. "But there was not shouting, table-pounding histrionics. The two ministers are professionals," he added.

Fried said Rice also told Lavrov that Russia's recognition of the Georgian breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia was a mistake, "quite a serious one."

"[Rice said] Russia did not enjoy any significant international support and Russia had created grave difficulties for itself," Fried added.

Fried said Lavrov responded with "known Russian positions" to Rice's strong criticism.

Speaking later to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Lavrov made clear Moscow did not feel isolated in the least but indicated a chill in relations with Washington, particularly over its missile-defense plans.

"The feeling of hostile policies is indeed something we feel sometimes," Lavrov said.

Rice and Lavrov had only spoken three times since the Georgia crisis and their relations have been testy in the past, particularly over imposing sanctions against Iran.

Iran Tensions

Russia boycotted talks by major powers planned for September 25 at which a fourth round of sanctions against Iran was to be discussed to get Tehran to give up its nuclear work. Russia opposes more sanctions.

The Bush administration has sought to play down the significance of the Russian decision to scrap the ministerial meeting on Iran and Rice said the timing was not right.

Lavrov complained the United States could not block Russian attendance at meetings by the Group of Eight industrial nations, "that are important for the entire world," and then demand cooperation from Russia in areas it cared about.

"You can't have it both ways," Lavrov told the Council on Foreign Relations.

Fried said both ministers agreed there should be a ministerial meeting to discuss Iran at some later stage but that no date or place had been set. Lavrov was less firm and said experts should meet "down the road."

Lavrov said he and Rice did not discuss sanctions against Iran and declined to say whether or not Russia would eventually support a fourth sanctions resolution. They did discuss both Iran and North Korea's nuclear programs, he added.

"We believe that in both cases our overriding goals have not changed. We want to resolve peacefully both situations," he said. "We will continue our discussions on both issues."

Rice has presided over a steady deterioration of U.S. ties with Moscow. She led international condemnation of Russia's decision to send troops to Georgia to stop Tbilisi's attempt to retake the pro-Russian, separatist region of South Ossetia.

She antagonized Russia last week with a speech, telling the West to resist Russian "bullying," and accusing Moscow of becoming increasingly authoritarian and aggressive.
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