"It's time for intensive diplomacy," said Rice, who meets face-to-face with the Russian president today amid major differences over U.S. missile defense plans and Putin's increasing criticism of American policy.
Rice said Washington is committed to working through the differences, notably over U.S. plans for a missile defense system in Europe, Russia's threat to suspend a major military treaty and Moscow's opposition to a U.N. plan for Kosovo independence.
There is also growing U.S. concern about Moscow's treatment of its former Soviet neighbors and steps Putin has taken to consolidate power in the Kremlin - seen as democratic backsliding as Russia prepares for presidential and parliamentary elections next year.
"I don't throw around terms like ‘new Cold War,'" Rice said. "It is a big, complicated relationship, but it is not one that is anything like the implacable hostility" between the United States and the Soviet Union for a half-century after World War II.
"It is not an easy time in the relationship, but it is also not, I think, a time in which cataclysmic things are affecting the relationship or catastrophic things are happening in the relationship," Rice told reporters aboard her plane on the way to Moscow.
"It is critically important to use this time to enhance those things that are going well and to work on those things that are not going well."
She noted that the United States and Russia are working together in numerous areas: on Iran and North Korea's nuclear programs, the global spread of weapons of mass destruction and efforts to achieve Middle East peace.
"Russia is not the Soviet Union, so this is not a U.S.-Soviet relationship, this is a U.S.-Russian relationship," said Rice, an expert on the Cold War who first visited Moscow in 1979. "A great deal has changed."
Her visit comes as the two nations have traded increasingly sharp barbs, despite ostensibly warm personal feelings between Putin and President Bush, who spoke to each other just last week and are expected to meet at a summit of leaders in Germany next month.
A planned event at which Rice and Putin were to be photographed together and make brief remarks was canceled by the Kremlin, according to U.S. officials. And a senior Russian diplomat warned the United States not to try to go it alone in world affairs.
"Unilateral steps, the more so unilateral force reaction, interference in affairs of other states under various pretexts ... lead to a deadlock," the chief of the foreign ministry's North America department, Igor Neverov, told the Russian ITAR-Tass news agency as Rice arrived. In April, simmering Russian anger over U.S. plans to place missile defense components in Poland and the Czech Republic, both former Warsaw Pact members, boiled over despite Washington's pledges to cooperate with Moscow on the system. Russia views the plan as an attempt to alter the strategic balance. Rice has dismissed such concerns as "ludicrous," but top Russian military officials have hinted the system might be targeted. "Moscow is not convinced by Washington's assurances that (missile defense) in Europe will not be directed against Russia," Neverov told ITAR-Tass. Last month, hours before the United States and its NATO allies met in Norway to discuss the matter, Putin threatened to suspend Russia's participation in a key treaty limiting military deployments in Europe. Rice said Monday that NATO and the United States want to keep the Conventional Forces in Europe pact alive but cannot unless Russia abides with its treaty commitments. Russia views U.S. activity in its former sphere of influence with growing suspicion. Just last week, Putin denounced "disrespect for human life, claims to global exclusiveness and dictate, just as it was in the time of the Third Reich." The Kremlin insisted that Putin had not meant to compare the Bush administration's policies with those of Nazi Germany, but the reference appeared to highlight Russia's annoyance at what it sees as U.S. domination of world affairs and meddling in Russian politics. Rice did not address Putin's comments but said she had urged counterparts to avoid "rhetoric that suggests the relationship is one of hostility." She said of Russia, "This is a big and complex place that is going through a major historic transformation. ... Things are not going to change overnight, but frankly we would like to see them change faster than they are changing, and for the better." In addition to discussion of missile defenses, she said she would push the Russians on accepting a U.N. proposal for supervised independence for Kosovo, now a U.N.-administered province in Russian-allied Serbia, that Moscow has threatened to block. AP-CS-05-14-07 1347EDT