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. US, Russia try not to let Georgia row upset dealings on Iran, NKorea
NEW YORK, Sept 24 (AFP) Sep 25, 2008
The United States and Russia showed no signs here Wednesday of ending their row over the war in Georgia, but still sought to cooperate on Iran's and North Korea's nuclear programs after emotions cool.

In their first encounter since the war last month, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov struck a polite, business-like tone, even if their disagreements were clear, both sides said.

"I agreed that we have to be pragmatic. We disagree on Caucasus but we decided not to make this situation a rock," Lavrov told reporters after his talks with Rice on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

"Russian-US cooperation is key, but after the very emotional reaction of the west and especially of the US coming back to pragmatism would take some time," Lavrov said.

"We discussed (North) Korea, Iran. These goals are unchanged. And it would be irresponsible to drop these issues because of disagreements on Caucasus," he said.

When they sat down together inside a luxury hotel here, both Rice and Lavrov, who have known each other for years, smiled and joked for the cameras, with their closed-door conversation reported to be professional.

"I didn't feel any rocky style" in Rice, Lavrov remarked later.

Daniel Fried, a senior State Department official, agreed.

"There was no shouting, table pounding, histrionics. The two ministers are professionals," Fried said, adding the meeting was constructive.

"I would call it a polite, thorough exchange of views where the disagreements were quite clear," Fried told reporters afterward.

Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war when Russian troops poured into South Ossetia on August 8 to repel an attack by Tbilisi's forces.

Russia routed the Georgian troops and set up positions deep inside Georgian territory, subsequently announcing it would withdraw troops to Georgia's breakaway regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which it had recognized as independent.

Moscow has said it will keep 7,600 troops in the two regions to ensure security.

Tbilisi and its Western allies have criticised the Russian deployment, saying it amounts to annexation of Georgia's sovereign territory.

Just as she has said publicly, Rice told Lavrov "that the recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia was a mistake, it was quite a serious one, that Russia did not enjoy any significant international support," Fried said.

She also told him that "Russia had created grave difficulties for itself," he added.

In a speech last week that angered Russia, Rice warned that Moscow risked isolation, a reversal of the strides it has taken to be integrated into the global economy and institutions since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

But Lavrov shrugged off the argument, perhaps boosted by disagreements among Europeans over how much to punish Russia over the incursion.

"We do not feel isolated at all. We had more requests for bilateral meetings this year than ever," Lavrov said.

Fried declined to disclose the substance of Lavrov's remarks, but added "it is fair to say he presented the known Russian position."

Lavrov said he disagreed with the US refusal to hold meetings of the Group of Eight industrial countries, composed of the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan, Britain, France, Italy and Germany.

The grouping used to be known as the Group of Seven before Russia was brought in following the Soviet era.

"I do not understand why G8 events have been postponed. These events are so important. The meeting of G8 ministers of agriculture also became a victim," Lavrov complained.

On Iran, where the United States seeks another round of UN sanctions to halt sensitive nuclear work, both sides agreed it "was premature" to hold a meeting of big power foreign ministers this week, Fried said.

France said a meeting had been scheduled this week.

But they agreed one should still be held in the future, he said.

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