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Rice on rushed repair run to Russia

Moscow, April 7 (Reuters): US President George W. Bush’s top national security aide met Russian officials today in a lightning visit to Moscow to try to repair relations badly shaken by the war on Iraq.

With Moscow smarting over an armed attack on a Russian diplomatic convoy in Iraq — so far unexplained — US national security adviser Condoleezza Rice held talks with foreign minister Igor Ivanov and other senior officials.

Russian media quoted Rice as saying as she left the talks that they had been “very good”, but neither she nor her Russian hosts made any other public statement. There was no indication of how much yesterday’s incident had figured in discussion.

Gunfire raked the convoy of Russian diplomats and journalists as it left Baghdad. An embassy driver was wounded in the side and needed surgery and four diplomats, including ambassador Vladimir Titorenko, were slightly hurt.

The convoy travelled on to Syria today, though the wounded driver and one other member of the embassy staff stayed behind in an Iraqi hospital.

“We have been through some difficult times and differences over Iraq have strained the relationship and we look forward to exchanging views on how to move forward,” a US embassy spokesman said as Rice began the talks with Ivanov.

Apart from foreign minister Ivanov, Rice also met defence minister Sergei Ivanov and other officials in the Kremlin.

Russia sought to dissuade the US and Britain from going to war to topple Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein, arguing for a diplomatic solution to the crisis over banned weapons.

President Vladimir Putin, with an eye on ties with Washington and future economic interests in Iraq, has softened this criticism and says a US military defeat would not be in Russia’s interests.

Though Moscow admonished Washington over US air attacks on Baghdad last week which it said struck uncomfortably close to the Russian embassy there, Putin has since told Bush he wants to maintain “an intense political dialogue” with Washington.

He told Russia’s parliament to set aside differences with the US on Iraq and ratify a landmark treaty on slashing numbers of deployed nuclear warheads.

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