"I don't throw around terms like 'new Cold War,"' Rice said on her way to Moscow for a visit amid growing tensions underlined by President Vladimir Putin's increasing criticism of the United States. "It is a big, complicated relationship, but it is not one that is anything like the implacable hostility" that clouded ties between the United States and the Soviet Union.
"It is not an easy time in the relationship, but it is also not, I think, a time in which cataclysmic things are affecting the relationship or catastrophic things are happening in the relationship," Rice told reporters aboard her plane. "But it is critically important to use this time to enhance those things that are going well and to work on those things that are not going well."
Washington's relations with Moscow are troubled by sharp disagreements on specific issues — in particular the U.S. proposal to place elements of a missile defense system in former Soviet satellite countries — and by a clear rise in the Kremlin's suspicion of American intentions worldwide.
Russian officials bristle at U.S. criticism of a perceived Kremlin rollback of democracy and complain that Washington is interfering in the country's internal affairs by funding pro-democracy groups. Russia also accuses the U.S. of trying to dominate international affairs.
In an address on the anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, Putin last week denounced "disrespect for human life, claims to global exclusiveness and dictate, just as it was in the time of the Third Reich."
Rice suggested Russian officials' sometimes emotionally charged wording of their complaints is not constructive, saying she has urged her counterparts to avoid "rhetoric that suggests the relationship is one of hostility."
She couched criticism of Russia's democratic progress under Putin with a caveat alluding to the country's troubled history.
"This is a big and complex place that is going through a major historic transformation ... things are not going to change overnight, but frankly we would like to see them change faster than they are changing, and for the better," Rice said.