US reins in anger at Russia over Kosovo

Other News Materials 23 February 2008 07:39 (UTC +04:00)
US reins in anger at Russia over Kosovo

( AFP )- The United States revealed frustration Friday at Russia's "cynical policy" toward Kosovo but kept its annoyance in check as it sought Moscow's support for new sanctions against Iran.

"I think the Russians have pursued a fairly cynical policy," said Nicholas Burns, the third-ranking US diplomat, referring to Moscow's stance against Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia.

"They're not in Kosovo, they're not doing anything to help the Kosovars. So they're kind of on the sidelines contributing mostly unhelpfully," Burns told Fox News television.

Rioters enraged by the United States' and other Western nations' support for Kosovo's independence set fire to the US embassy in Belgrade on Thursday, prompting US and UN protests.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday described the declaration of independence by Kosovo as a "terrible precedent" that will come back to hit the West "in the face," in comments broadcast on state television.

Richard Holbrooke, a former US diplomat who brokered the Dayton Accords ending the 1990s war in neighboring Bosnia, on Friday blamed Russia for backing "extremist elements" inciting violence in Belgrade.

But State Department spokesman Sean McCormack responded more cautiously, on the same day the department announced that Russia, the United States and four other powers would sit down together Monday to discuss sanctions against Iran.

"I don't have anything to substantiate this point," he told reporters when asked about Holbrooke's claim.

"Would we have wished that the Russians could play a more helpful and constructive role? Absolutely," McCormack added.

"We would hope that they look forward, not backward with respect with what has happened. We'll see. We will continue working with them on a whole variety of other issues."

The United States has been involved in lengthy negotiations with its fellow permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Russia, France, Britain, and China -- plus Germany, to impose a third round of UN economic and travel sanctions against Iran for its refusal to stop sensitive nuclear work.

Both Russia and China, which have strong economic ties with Iran, have been more reluctant than the Europeans to back sanctions. As permanent members of the council, they hold the right to veto resolutions.

But key European powers on Thursday formally introduced the new sanctions in the UN Security Council to pressure Iran, and hoped for a vote next week.

The core elements of the draft were approved by foreign ministers of the six powers at a meeting last month.

Burns denied the Kosovo issue would threaten diplomatic cooperation over Iran.

"I don't expect this to have any impact whatsoever," he told reporters in Washington Friday.

"We work fairly well with the Russians on Iran, albeit we don't always see eye to eye on all the tactical issues," he said.

"And it's certainly in Russia's interest as is it to ours to see this resolution going forward and being voted."

The US ambassador to the UN meanwhile said Friday that despite Russia's response to the unrest in Belgrade, Moscow's diplomats at the UN were "going in the right direction" on Kosovo.

"I see that the Russians are very realistic," Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters in New York. "Within the UN system, we see a Russian desire to adjust" to Kosovo's declaration of independence.

The United States also needs Russia's support in negotiations aimed at scrapping North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Those talks also involve China, Japan, North Korea and South Korea.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice heads to Asia Saturday for talks on that issue.