Rice, Putin Hold Talks in Moscow

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told President Vladimir Putin on Monday that the United States was committed to its partnership with Russia despite differences over the war in Iraq, a senior U.S. diplomat said.

During a 24-hour visit, Rice stressed the importance of dialogue on post-conflict Iraq and "the need to find practical solutions to humanitarian aspects and the broader reconstruction of the country," the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

Rice also discussed Sunday's incident in which a convoy evacuating the Russian ambassador and other diplomats from Baghdad came under fire. Russia has not officially blamed the United States, but the ambassador, Vladimir Titorenko, said Monday that U.S. forces fired on the convoy even though it had a Russian flag.

"We don't take responsibility," the U.S. diplomat said, adding that the convoy was "in the wrong place at the wrong time."

American and Russian officials had discussed the Russians' evacuation plans and possible routes and passed on the information to U.S. forces, but the United States had stressed it couldn't give any security guarantees, the diplomat said.

"Let me reiterate that if U.S. forces were involved in any way, there was certainly no intention to cause harm to Russian personnel," State Department spokesman Philip T. Reeker said in Washington.

In the talks, Rice noted Washington wants to cooperate with Russia on "post-conflict issues" but said the U.S.-led coalition would play the leading role in Iraq immediately after the war, the diplomat said.

Rice met with Putin, Security Council chief Vladimir Rushailo, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Putin's chief of staff, Alexander Voloshin.

Rice smiled as she emerged from a meeting with the foreign minister, but told reporters only that they had held "very good discussions."

Putin has condemned the war in Iraq, but he tempered his tone in several statements last week, saying a U.S. defeat would not be in Russia's interests. He said Saturday that the Kremlin would urge Russian lawmakers to ratify a nuclear arms reduction treaty with the United States, which the lower house of parliament had postponed indefinitely to protest the war.

Some observers say the change in tone reflects Russia's hope of winning a role in Iraq's postwar reconstruction, as well as its desire to prevent further damage to ties with the United States.

U.S.-Russian relations had been bolstered by Putin's strong support for the U.S. war in Afghanistan, but were battered by the differences over the war in Iraq.

Washington accused Russian companies of shipping military equipment to Iraq, charges Moscow denies. The U.S. diplomat said Rice discussed the issue Monday.

Rice also discussed U.S.-Russian cooperation in the fight against terrorism, nuclear proliferation problems related with North Korea and Iran, and the situation in Chechnya, the diplomat said.