Bush and Putin hold first meeting
LJUBLJANA, Slovenia -- President Bush is to cap a five-day European tour by meeting his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin for the first time.
The two leaders will come face to face in Slovenia on Saturday when Bush is expected to issue a call for Russia to cement its fledgling democracy.
Bush has indicated he will be bringing a message that the United States is no longer the enemy in a world that has moved beyond Cold War dogma.
On the eve of the talks, Bush strove to cast his vision of the evolving bilateral relationship as one in which Russia should be a "partner" and an "ally" rather than an adversary.
Speaking in Warsaw, he said: "Our country doesn't want to diminish the nation. We want to elevate the nation … It's time to put talk of East and West behind us.
"We have a stake in Russia's success - and we look for the day when Russia is fully reformed, fully democratic, and closely bound to the rest of Europe."
Ahead of the meeting, Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, sought to play down expectations of a breakthrough, casting the meeting as a great opportunity for the two men to share their views.
"This is an opportunity for the two presidents to get to know each other, to establish a personal relationship, for the president (Bush) to sketch out his broad vision of how he'd like to see U.S.-Russian relations go, but not to make specific proposals to the Russians."
Putin, speaking on Friday upon his return to Moscow from a summit of leaders from China and the Central Asian republics, held in Shanghai, China, said he sees the meeting as a chance to get an unfiltered sounding of Bush's opinions.
"I would like to hear from the US president in person his point of view, rather than in interpretation by representatives of the staff and the press … and for him it would probably be interesting to hear from the Russian head of state Russia's position on this problem," Putin said.
Scrapping a treaty
Putin also said he planned to "discuss and coordinate many of our approaches to the solution of regional problems, to the solution of especially acute problems such as the Balkans, the Middle East and some others."
Bush's plans to build a missile defence system have drawn sharp objections from Russia, which claims the U.S. is acting in defiance of the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty, a cornerstone of nuclear weapons deterrence for the past 29 years.
The Bush administration has made plain, however, that they view the treaty as "ancient history" and no longer relevant in a world where the greatest threats to global security are likely to come from what the US regards as "rogue" nations such as North Korea, Libya and Iraq.
It is a case that the US leader intends to press at Saturday's meeting with Putin in the Slovenian capital.
"I will make the case, as I have to all European leaders I have met on this trip, that the basis for our mutual security must move beyond Cold War doctrines," Bush said.
Bush also said plans he plans to raise the issue of weapons proliferation. On Friday, he said reports that weapons were spreading along Russia's volatile southern border were a source of concern to him.
"It's important for Russia to hear that our nation is concerned about the spreading of weapons of mass destruction and I'll bring it up in the context of explaining why it is important for us to think differently on missile defences."
Bush, for his part, will seek to press Russia on its sale of missiles and other military technology to Iran, his aides told CNN.
Rice said Bush is concerned about the Iran-Russian relationship and that it could lead to an "increased danger of a proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to Iran."
"The president will make the point to President Putin that may seem at this moment to be an expedient policy with certain states can really come back to haunt not just us, but the Russians," she said.
Putin is likely to grill Bush on the continued expansion of NATO, the alliance formed among Western nations as a counterforce to the Soviet Union, and which has in recent years crept eastwards, taking in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic in 1999.
Putin has expressed his opposition of NATO expansion which could conceivably see the alliance stretching right up to Russia's borders in the near future if the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania gain admission.
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