Tense Moments at Clinton-Putin Meeting

Mar 19, 2010 4:55pm

ABC's Alexander Marquardt reports: When reporters traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Moscow were informed that a last-minute meeting with Russia's Prime Minister Valdimir Putin had been added to the schedule, they were told they would only get to see a few seconds of handshakes before being ushered out.

Instead, with cameras rolling, they watched Putin spend six minutes rattling off a number of complaints he has with the United States.

Trade with the US has slowed during the financial crisis, he complained, Russian companies have been slapped with US sanctions and Russia is having trouble joining the World Trade Organization. 

He also singled out the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, as he has in the past, as evidence that the US is not fully encouraging business with Russia. (The amendment restricts trade with countries that limit emigration, as the USSR did with Jews.)

"If we continue to work together, we can move beyond the problems to greater opportunities," Clinton replied, according to the Washington Post, after emphasizing some of the accomplishments the two countries had recently achieved.  The report added that Clinton was “unfazed by the blunt lecture.”

Reporters were surprised at the length of Putin’s list of issues and the fact that he did it in front of the Russian and American press corps, a pool reporter noted.

The meeting was held at Putin’s government-owned country estate just a few hours after Russia’s foreign minister declared that Russia and the US have “managed to perform a true reset of relations.”

The other most contentious moment of Clinton’s trip was also thanks to Putin after he announced yesterday that a nuclear power plant Russia is building in Iran will be completed in the next few months.

“It would be premature to go forward with any project at this time because we want to send an unequivocal message to the Iranians,” said Clinton, who has been trying to bring the Russians on board with sanctions for Iran.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded, “This nuclear power plant will be launched, it will be put into operation, it will be functioning producing power.”

A senior Putin aide described Friday evening's talks as “a frank discussion,” according to the Itar-Tass news agency.

This is not the first time there has been tension between the pair. While campaigning for president in 2008, Clinton commented on President George W. Bush’s infamous comment that he had looked into Putin’s soul.

"I could have told him, [Putin] was a KGB agent,” said Clinton, “By definition, he doesn't have a soul.”

A few days later, Putin replied, "At a minimum, a head of state should have a head."

Clinton is now on her way back to Washington. Asked if she had invited Putin to the US, his aide replied that she hadn't but assured reporters that the dialogue would continue and that Putin has "kind, close and comradely personal relations with the Clinton family.”

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