At G-8 summit, US and Russia may trade barbs

Unless tensions are eased, the G-8 meeting could be in trouble.

American-Russian relations have reached a new low, and Dick Cheney has made a contribution to the big chill.

On May 5, at a conference of liberated Soviet states in Vilnius, Lithuania, Mr. Cheney made a speech denouncing the Russian regime for backsliding on democracy and trying to use control of energy to blackmail its neighbors.

A week later, it has been learned, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held a private dinner meeting in a New York hotel with representatives of countries trying to fashion a policy on Iran and its nuclear aspirations. She found Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov decidedly uncooperative.

In an angry meeting that went late into the evening, Mr. Lavrov reportedly accused the United States of trying to undermine the efforts of Britain, France, and Germany to resolve the Iranian crisis. At one point, Secretary Rice said in frustration, "This meeting isn't going anywhere."

There are other signs of growing friction and hostility between Moscow and Washington. Russia has now twice delayed a $20 billion giant Arctic gas fuel development that was planned to help supply the American market.

Unless something is done to ease the tension, the summit of the G-8 industrial powers, scheduled for mid-July in St. Petersburg, with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the chair for the first time, could be in trouble.

The Bush administration is not likely to cancel that meeting, although it may be significant that no date has been officially announced. The summit was expected to be held on July 15 and 16.

There have been some calls, notably from Sen. John McCain, for an American boycott of the summit. That is not likely to happen. What is likely to happen are some sharp exchanges of words about Iran, about Chechnya, about democratic rights. What is not likely to happen are the intimate little gatherings between official sessions that used to characterize these meetings at the summit.

Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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