WASHINGTON – Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov says he hopes rumors that Secretary of State Colin Powell may resign are not true.
"I still intend to work with him and I hope he will continue to work in our mutual interests," Ivanov said at a news conference Wednesday at the Russian Embassy.
"I very highly value my relationship with Secretary Powell," Ivanov said. "I very highly respect him."
Ivanov said he was the object of similar rumors last year while he was meeting Powell for the first time.
Senior U.S. officials have flatly dismissed any suggestion that Powell was resigning in a bureaucratic struggle with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld as wrong and rubbish.
But one senior official told The Associated Press that Rumsfeld had a tendency to "micromanage" on issues that was distressing to Powell. At the same time, though, the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was no personal animosity between the two Cabinet officers.
Ivanov flew to Washington for talks Thursday with Powell, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and leaders of the European Union on the Arab-Israeli conflict. On Friday, Ivanov and Powell will work on preparations for the talks Presidents Bush and Vladimir Putin will hold in Moscow and St. Petersburg later in the month.
Two major documents are being prepared, Ivanov said. One would implement pledges by the two leaders to reduce U.S. and Russian arsenals of long-range strategic warheads to 1,700 to 2,200 over 10 years.
The other would set terms for a new strategic relations between the United States and Russia.
Rumsfeld declined to predict Wednesday how soon the final details of the arms-cut accord would be worked out.
"I'm not going to try to put a smile or a frown in it," he said at a Pentagon news conference. "It's a process. It's been going along very well."
Ivanov also declined to be pinned down. He said there was a "real possibility" the agreement would be ready in time for the summit talks. "The levels have been set by the presidents. The goal has been set by the presidents," he said.
One of the remaining sticking points is the Russians' insistence that the weapon reductions be made "irreversible," Pentagon official J.D. Crouch said Wednesday. The Russians want the Americans to destroy, rather than put in storage, the warheads they take out of service. The Americans say they will destroy some and keep others.
If warheads are not destroyed they can be quickly put back on missiles.