Tensions High, U.S. Security Chief Meets With Putin

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MOSCOW -- With the Kremlin bristling over an American effort to punish Russian citizens accused of violating human rights, President Obama's national security adviser, Thomas E. Donilon, met here on Monday with President Vladimir V. Putin and other top officials.

The purpose of Mr. Donilon's visit was to push for more cuts in the two nations' nuclear weapons stockpiles and for expanded cooperation in containing the threat of a missile strike from Iran or North Korea. But it seemed that the timing could hardly have been more awkward.

The visit came three days after the Obama administration barred more than two dozen Russians from traveling to the United States or maintaining assets in the country because of alleged human rights abuses. Although the step, required under a law approved in December, was widely expected, it nonetheless drew outrage and swift retaliation from Russia, which published its own list of Americans who will face similar sanctions.

Mr. Donilon's appearance in Moscow despite the diplomatic contretemps sent a loud signal that the White House was ready to look past the recent souring of relations to work with the Kremlin to achieve progress on nuclear weapons. Mr. Obama cited his desire for weapons reductions in his State of the Union speech in February, and his administration has made it clear that it views nuclear nonproliferation as an issue that will be part of the president's legacy.

Mr. Donilon met on Monday with his Russian counterpart, Nikolai P. Patrushev, the general secretary of the Russian Security Council, and with Yuri Ushakov, a senior adviser to Mr. Putin and a former ambassador to the United States. Mr. Putin dropped in to the meetings for several minutes, and several other senior officials also took part, including a Russian deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, and the American ambassador in Moscow, Michael A. McFaul.

Russian news agencies reported that Mr. Donilon had taken a letter to Mr. Putin from Mr. Obama, and White House officials confirmed that but declined to discuss the letter's contents.

There seemed to be at least some willingness on both sides to increase official cooperation. Officials said the two presidents would meet in mid-June on the sidelines of a summit meeting of the Group of 8 industrialized nations in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, and again in September when the Group of 20 meets in St. Petersburg, Russia.

A spokeswoman for the National Security Council, Caitlin Hayden, said in a brief statement on Monday that the discussions in Moscow "were comprehensive and constructive."

Still, Russian officials made clear to Mr. Donilon their displeasure over the sanctions against the Russian citizens. The White House developed the list to comply with a law named for Sergei L. Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who was jailed while investigating accusations of government tax fraud and later died in prison.

The Russian government is calling its retaliatory measure the "Guantánamo list" in an effort to draw attention to alleged human rights abuses by the American government at the detention center there.

Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov, who met with Mr. Donilon on Monday morning, said Russia had raised the matter with Americans at the highest levels, including with Secretary of State John Kerry.

"John Kerry and Tom Donilon said that the Obama administration understands this serious irritating effect, to put it lightly, of these things on the relations," Mr. Lavrov said, adding that he hoped steps would be taken to reduce tensions. "We will judge by deeds, not by words."

There was also some acknowledgment that the Obama administration imposed sanctions on far fewer Russians than some members of Congress and human rights advocates had hoped for. The newspaper Izvestia wrote in an editorial, "We must give it to President Obama: the list published by the Americans differs greatly from what was promised by Senator Ben Cardin, the author of the Magnitsky Act."

Relations between Russia and the United States have taken a sharp turn for the worse over the last year and a half, beginning with a wave of anti-Americanism that preceded Mr. Putin's return to the presidency last May.

Mark Landler contributed reporting from Washington.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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