Iran Nuclear NewsBush presses Russia's Putin on Iran

Bush presses Russia’s Putin on Iran

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AP: President Bush on Monday prodded Russian President Vladimir Putin to press Iran, through the United Nations, to suspend its nuclear enrichment work in a way that can be verified by the international community. Associated Press

By DESMOND BUTLER

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush on Monday prodded Russian President Vladimir Putin to press Iran, through the United Nations, to suspend its nuclear enrichment work in a way that can be verified by the international community.

The call came about a week after Putin visited Tehran, marking the first visit by a Kremlin leader to the Iranian capital in six decades. Putin continues to share U.S. concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and there was nothing in the readout of his trip to Tehran that indicated Moscow had changed its concern about the prospects of a nuclear-armed Iran, a senior administration official said.

The two leaders also talked about Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ recent trip to Moscow for discussions on strategic security issues, including missile defense and the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said Bush and Putin endorsed continued talks by experts to find a way forward on both issues.

At the opening of a conference in Washington on U.S.-Soviet history during part of the Cold War, Rice called on the Russian government to strengthen the independence of its courts, its press and its parliament – democratic reforms that would strengthen Russia and improve relations with the United States.

“We want Russia to be strong – strong in 21st-century terms, not just with a strong independent center, but with strong independent institutions, an independent judiciary and legislature and independent civil society with a free media and vibrant non-governmental sector,” she said.

Her speech comes at a time of heightened U.S.-Russian tensions and concern that Putin is consolidating power in the central government. Russia has bristled over U.S. criticisms of its human rights record and objected to U.S. plans to build a missile defense system in Eastern Europe – a topic of a speech Bush is to deliver on Tuesday at the National Defense University in Washington.

Still, Rice, who has an academic background in Soviet studies, rejected comparisons between today’s relations and those of the Cold War. “I visited the Soviet Union. I studied in the Soviet Union, and I will tell you that Russia is not the Soviet Union,” she said.

Rice did not mention Putin in her speech, but during her trip to Moscow earlier this month she said that she thought the Kremlin was amassing too much power.

Putin will step down next year as president. He has said he would lead the ticket of the main pro-Kremlin party in the parliamentary elections and could take the prime minister’s job later.

The State Department has frequently criticized what Washington regards as creeping authoritarianism among Putin and other top Russian leaders.

Its most recent human-rights report on Russia notes continuing centralization of power in the Kremlin, a compliant legislature, political pressure on the judiciary, intolerance of ethnic minorities, corruption and selectivity in enforcing the law, and media restrictions and self-censorship.

Rice said that the United States and Russia were cooperating on a number of mutual interests, including anti-terrorism efforts, securing nuclear stockpiles and preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. But she warned that Russia should not bully its neighbors.

In Bush’s phone call to Putin, the president “reiterated the importance of continuing to apply pressure through the United Nations to insist on verifiable Iranian suspension of its nuclear enrichment activities,” Johndroe said.

The United States has sought to bolster the independence of former Soviet states, including Ukraine and Georgia. It has criticized Russia for using its vast energy resources to build supply monopolies that it can use against other countries.

“We respect Russia’s interests, but no interest is served if Russia uses its great wealth, its oil and gas wealth, as a political weapon or that they can treat their neighbors as part of some old sphere of influence,” Rice said.

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