US Vice President Dick Cheney shrugged off negative reaction from Moscow to his criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying he had merely described "the extent to which they seem to resist the development of strong democracies" in Eastern Europe.
At a news conference with Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Cheney held up his host as a model for Iran to follow in the gathering controversy over Tehran's possible pursuit of nuclear weapons.
"I frankly think that the example provided by Kazakhstan some years ago when they achieved independence, of giving up the inventory of nuclear weapons that were deployed in Kazakhstan, was an outstanding example that the Iranians might want to consider," he said.
Administration officials said Cheney had come to discuss Kazakhstan's long record of help in the war on terrorism, trade issues and energy in the former Soviet republic -- one with a troubled human rights record.
"The way forward is clear. Continue democratic and economic reforms, the rule of law, fighting corruption, accountability of institutions and sound security politics," the vice president said at the news conference.
Cheney wrapped up his stay with a meeting yesterday with opposition leaders, a visit that officials said reflected concern about the government's record on democratic rights. The symbolism was muted, however, when Cheney's aides refused to allow reporters to witness any of the session.
Cheney's remarks on democracy were more diplomatic than his words on Thursday, when he criticized Putin in a speech at a meeting of Eastern European leaders who govern in Russia's shadow. At the time, he accused Putin of cracking down on democratic rights and using Russia's energy resources as tools of intimidation and blackmail.
A number of prominent Russian figures, including former president Mikhail Gorbachev, criticized the speech.
Cheney gave no evidence of concern, telling reporters he had not had an opportunity to study the response.