Yahoo! News - Rice: Russia Must Improve Democracy for Better Ties
ANKARA (Reuters) - Russia must do more to show it is committed to "the basics of democracy" if it wants deeper relations with the West, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (news - web sites) said on Saturday.
The former Soviet specialist, on her first trip abroad as the top U.S. diplomat, arrived from Warsaw in Ankara, where she will pay a call on a key ally in the Muslim world and meet her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
"Obviously we have concerns ... it is important that Russia make clear to the world that it is intent on strengthening the rule of law, strengthening the role of an independent judiciary, permitting a free and independent press," Rice told a news conference in Warsaw, during a stopover en route to Turkey.
"These are all the basics of democracy."
Rice also said that Moscow needed to support democratic trends in its neighborhood, an apparent reference to last year's U.S. clash with Russia over rigged elections in Ukraine.
"This is not just about democratic developments in Russia. It is about democratic developments in the whole of Europe and all of the neighbors of Russia," Rice told reporters on board her plane en route to Ankara.
In December, parliament approved President Vladimir Putin's plans to scrap gubernatorial elections and allow the president to nominate governors. Putin has also allowed an apparently politically motivated case to proceed against oil major YUKOS.
But Rice also stressed U.S. co-operation with Russia in areas such as counter-terrorism and trade, and said Washington's diplomacy had resolved a clash with Russia over Ukraine.
Late last year, Putin supported the winner of the rigged presidential election in Russia's neighbor, but U.S. pressure helped force a rerun which was eventually won by the West-leaning candidate who had angered Moscow.
Rice cited Ukraine, along with Afghanistan, Georgia and Iraq, as places that were building the institutions of democracy, and said America and Europe should work together in "the great cause of the spread of freedom and liberty."
"What we're hearing from Europe is a desire to move on to the next chapter in the history of this great alliance. That is a chapter that should be devoted to ... the opportunities to try and sustain the momentum toward a Palestinian-Israeli resolution of that long-standing conflict," Rice said.