MOSCOW - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice won agreement yesterday from Vladimir V. Putin to tone down Russian tough talk in an effort to improve strained ties, though neither side gave any ground on major disagreements over missile defense and Kosovo.
Rice said no country could veto U.S. plans to set up a missile-defense system in Europe, which Russia vehemently opposes. She also said the United States still supported a U.N. plan for independence for the Serbian province of Kosovo, an idea Russia opposes.
She and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were collegial at a news conference where they were peppered with questions about contentious issues. They stressed areas of cooperation, including the war on terror and efforts to halt the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
"There will always be situations where our positions do not coincide," Lavrov said. He attributed talk of a "catastrophic" breakdown in relations to media speculation about a new Cold War emerging between the former foes.
He said Russia still believed that the planned European missile defense - which would involve locating 10 missile interceptors in Poland and an early-warning radar in the Czech Republic - would be a threat to it.
Rice was in Moscow for two days seeking to repair relations ahead of a planned meeting next month between Putin and President Bush at a summit of G-8 leaders in Germany.
She gave no hint the United States was willing to back down on its plans for European missile defense.
"The United States needs to be able to move forward to use technology to defend itself," she said, "and we're going to do that. I don't think that anyone expects the United States to permit somehow a veto on American security interests."
On Kosovo, Russia opposes independence for the province from Serbia and fears it could set a dangerous precedent for some Russian and former Russian republics. Rice and Lavrov said no progress had been made in bridging differences.
"I can't see a ready solution," Rice said.
Lavrov said the same: "It was agreed to search for a solution on Kosovo that would be acceptable for all, but there is no such solution immediately in sight."
Before their meeting, Rice criticized the Russians for recent negative comments by Putin and others that she said had obscured positive developments and cooperation.
"We did talk about the need to keep the temperature down," Rice said after meeting Putin at his home outside Moscow. She described some remarks as "overheated rhetoric," in particular his recent reference in a speech to Nazi Germany, widely perceived as criticism of the United States.
"We are going to have our differences," she said. "There is no doubt about that. There are going to be old scars to overcome. There is no doubt about that. . . . But the relationship needs to be free of exaggerated rhetoric."