Russia's foreign minister says U.S.
is probably 'most difficult' partner

By Steve Gutterman
Associated Press

MOSCOW – Russia's foreign minister said the United States was perhaps Moscow's “most difficult” partner and urged Washington to learn from its mistakes on the world stage, according to a news report on Sunday.

Sergey Lavrov also blamed Washington for impasses in the Middle East, suggesting the U.S. approach there was too confrontational, Interfax news agency reported.

“Like any other country, we are interested in having good, smooth, clear relations with the United States” but it is “not easy,” Interfax quoted Lavrov as saying in an interview on state-run television.

While Moscow and Washington have been able to “achieve mutually acceptable results” on many issues, the United States “is not an easy partner at all — probably the most difficult partner,” he said.

The remarks reflected the troubled ties between the former Cold War foes, despite avowals of common aims on matters such as terrorism and weapons proliferation. Relations have been strained by disagreements over an array of international issues as well as Russia's record on democracy under President Vladimir Putin.

Russia sharply criticized the U.S. invasion of Iraq and has sought to counter what it has suggested are Washington's uncompromising positions on the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea.

Lavrov repeated criticism he made in Washington last week, when he rebuked the Bush administration for its resistance to diplomacy with certain Middle East governments. He suggested the U.S. was being shortsighted by not engaging countries that could help resolve problems in Iraq, Lebanon and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The Middle East settlement has been suspended because, despite our position and the position of the European Union, Washington has conducted policy based on the principle, 'He who is not with us is against us,'” Lavrov said.

He said the United States was isolating Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah even though they were “key actors in solving the Middle East puzzle.”

Lavrov said Moscow has been frank with Washington when it questions U.S. foreign policy, and that the United States should learn from its experiences.

“Too much potential for crisis has built up in addition to Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said.

The foreign minister also said relations were far less positive at lower levels than between Putin and President Bush.

“In spite of the mutual respect of the presidents and their readiness to accept the sovereign decisions of the other side, the situation looks entirely different at other levels of the executive branch,” he said.