US dismisses Russian claim of election meddling

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WASHINGTON, Nov 26 (Reuters) The United States rejected today claims by Russian President Vladimir Putin that Washington was trying to undermine December parliamentary elections, calling his sharp words election ''rhetoric.'' Putin, who must step down as president early next year, said he saw Washington's hand in a decision by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's monitoring arm to abandon plans to observe the vote.

But State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that was not the case and while Washington supported the OSCE's decision, it had not influenced them.

Senior State Department officials Nicholas Burns and Dan Fried both spoke to OSCE representatives when they were debating whether or not to send any election monitors, McCormack said.

''Our very clear message was that this is your decision. We don't want to try to influence you one way or another,'' McCormack told reporters.

''We did say that whatever decision the OSCE professional staff decided to make, that we would support that decision,'' McCormack said. ''There was no interference, absolutely none.'' However, he said the OSCE had decided not to go because the Russian government was putting up ''obstacles and road blocks'' that would undermine the OSCE's credibility.

Later today, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who is in the United States for a Middle East conference in nearby Annapolis, Maryland.

McCormack said Rice did not plan to raise the issue of OSCE monitors, but if Lavrov wanted to, then the top US diplomat would be prepared to discuss it.

The United States and Europe have voiced concern over a weekend police crackdown on protests by an opposition that says it has been banished from the airwaves and the streets by an overbearing Kremlin.

In his comments, Putin discouraged others from ''poking their snotty noses'' into Russia's affairs. Asked about the derogatory nature of his remarks, McCormack said he could not account for the translation of what Putin had said.

''Look, any time you have a political season, you sometimes get rhetoric that is a little more sharp than it might otherwise be. I don't put it down to anything more than that,'' McCormack said.

The United States is at loggerheads with Russia over a host of issues, from Kosovo's independence and US plans to place a missile defense shield in Europe to Washington's bid to pile more sanctions on Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

McCormack said the two foreign ministers would likely discuss Iran, missile defense and Kosovo.

Russia's First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said Monday in a radio interview that Moscow was ready for dialogue on the latest US proposals for a missile shield in Europe, which the United States submitted last week.

Reuters AK VP0025

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