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Foreign Ministry Says Spy Scandal Won't Damage U.S. Ties

Russian and U.S. officials said relations would not be damaged after the U.S. arrests of suspects in a purported Russian spy ring.

"We expect that the incident involving the arrest in the United States of a group of people suspected of spying for Russia will not negatively affect Russian-U.S. relations," a Foreign Ministry official said Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. Justice Department announced on Monday that it had cracked an undercover Russian spy ring and arrested 10 suspects. An 11th suspect was detained and freed on bail in Cyprus on Tuesday.

The Foreign Ministry on Tuesday criticized the timing of the announcement, days after Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama met in Washington, and said it did not understand why the Justice Department had made the news public.

In Washington, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs labored to show that the arrests were a law enforcement matter — one not driven by the president, even though Obama was informed — and played down any political consequences.

Obama was asked about the matter by reporters twice Tuesday. He declined to comment both times.

Gibbs said Obama was aware of the investigation before he met with Medvedev at the White House last Thursday, although Gibbs said he did not know whether Obama knew then that the arrests were imminent. The two leaders did not discuss the issue, Gibbs said.

Another White House spokesman, Tommy Vietor, said Obama did not know the exact timing of the arrests.

The FBI's arrests of the 10 suspects had to be carried out Sunday partly because one of the 10 was scheduled to leave the United States, the Justice Department said.

Obama wants to build a foundation for a strategic partnership with Moscow — to increase security, and economic and other cooperation — and it was that longer-term goal that the State Department emphasized in reacting to the spy case.

"We were not going to forgo the opportunity to pursue our common interests because there are things we disagreed on," Phil Gordon, the department's top Russia policy official, told reporters.

"I think you should see this spying issue in that context. We feel we have made significant progress in the 18 months that we have been pursuing this different relationship with Russia," Gordon added. "We think we have something to show for it."

By coincidence, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to visit Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia in coming days, as well as Poland. Each of those countries is keenly interested in the direction of U.S.-Russian relations.

(AP, Reuters)

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