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Sunday, May 07, 2006

White House Backs Veep to Hilt on Russia Blast

Pictured are U.S. Vice President Cheney and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Guess which one was right about U.S. policy?

Reuters reports that Russia finds it "incomprehensible" that America would see it as Cold War provocation for Russia to provide U.S. military secrets to Iraq during the war and to provide nuclear technology to Iran and massive cash funding to the terrorist regime in Palestine. The White House tries to explain it in terms even Russian can understand.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Friday backed Vice President Dick Cheney's tough speech on Russia and said Russian President Vladimir Putin should move on democratic reforms before hosting a major international summit in July. Cheney had said in a speech in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius on Thursday that opponents of democratic reform in Russia "are seeking to reverse the gains of the last decade."

The Kremlin rejected his remarks, calling them completely incomprehensible, but White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Cheney was stating existing U.S. policy.

"I think that the comments were consistent with what we've said previously," McClellan said. He added that Bush and Putin have a good personal relationship in which they are able to talk candidly about issues of concern.

Bush goes to St. Petersburg in mid-July for a Group of Eight major-nation summit that will put Putin in the international spotlight as the host.

In a reflection of the pressures Bush is under on Russia policy, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain had suggested in recent months that Bush should not go to the summit to show concern, an idea Bush rejected as too strong.

"The G8 is coming up in St. Petersburg, there's going to be a lot of attention on democratic development in Russia and we think that this could be a good opportunity for Russia to show some movement on democratic reforms," McClellan said.

A senior administration official said this included progress on the rule of law, freedom of the press and freedom of expression, and allowing non-governmental organizations to operate in Russia without government interference.

Bush and Putin had a strong relationship in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, but the ties have cooled in the last year or so and Washington has been disappointed at what it sees as backsliding on democracy in Russia.

"You have to be blind and obtuse not to understand that some of our hopes for the U.S.-Russian relationship in the beginning of the administration have not been realized," said a second senior administration official.

The official said no formal review of U.S.-Russia relationship was under way but that the Bush administration was troubled by Russia's "distrust of democracy and Russia's unconstructive relations with many of its neighbors."

The new tensions come as the United States is seeking support from Russia on applying pressure on Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions.

Russia, which has major investments in Iran, has stood firm against U.N. sanctions on Tehran to the chagrin of Washington.

"They add up the pluses and minuses, they don't want to trash the relationship with Iran," said Steve Pifer, a Russian expert for the State Department in Bush's first term and now an analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

He said the Cheney speech was a signal that Washington "is uneasy about some of the directions that the Russians are moving in."

Cheney criticized Moscow for playing power politics with its vast energy reserves at a time of record world prices and accused it of bullying neighboring countries, many of which were dominated by the Kremlin in the Soviet era.

Pifer said that was a reference to Russia's turning off its natural gas taps to Ukraine in a pricing dispute that disrupted supplies to Europe briefly.

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