Rice, Putin Have Tense Meeting

When a high-level meeting between governments has not gone especially well, the participants sometimes speak afterward of their "frank exchange of views."

Such was apparently the case on Wednesday in Moscow, where Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) met with Russian President Vladimir Putin (search).

Appearing on Moscow Radio, Rice spoke the language, but her first trip to Russia as secretary of state hardly bespoke a meeting of the minds.

Rice proclaimed Russia a "strategic partner" and was warmly received by Putin. But on issue after issue — the pace of Russia's democratization, restrictions on foreign oil investors and the security of Russian nuclear materials — the secretary spoke only of differences aired, not of tangible progress made.

At one point, her host, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, responded sarcastically to Rice's exhortations.

"I would say, like the U.S. is interested in a strong and a democratic Russia that could play its active role internationally, we are also interested that the U.S. should be a strong and democratic partner and country playing an active role internationally," said Lavrov.

Rice claimed "improvements" in American access to Russian nuclear sites even as she fended off suggestions that Washington's push for inspections is an affront to Russian sovereignty.

"We do not consider in any way the inspections that need to take place, issues of sovereignty. These are issues of cooperation," Rice said.

The United States has encouraged pro-democracy movements in former Soviet states like the Ukraine, Georgia and Kazakhstan. But in Moscow, the secretary faced suspicion that the United States is trying to "encircle" Russia with newly democratic nations.

"The United States has no desire to see Russian influence in these areas diminished. In fact, we see this as a zero-sum game but one in which everybody has much to gain," she said.

When President Bush visits Russia next month, he will renew U.S. efforts to get Putin to embrace democracy following a series of moves that have only consolidated Putin's power.

On her trip, Rice emphasized the need for democracy.

"For Russia to gain its full potential, there needs to be democratic development. There should not be so much concentration of power just in the presidency," she said.

U.S. officials have also complained about the imprisonment and trial of Russia's richest tycoon, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and the state's confiscation through taxation of his company, Yukos Oil.

Rice closes out her trip with a series of NATO meetings in Lithuania, about which she sounded much more optimistic. Rice said America's trans-Atlantic alliances no longer need to be put on the couch and analyzed, but put to work.

Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by Fox News' James Rosen.