Rapprochement with Russia? Bush-Putin Talks on Maine Coast to Face Reality of Rocky Relations

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 10, 2007 | Go to article overview

Rapprochement with Russia? Bush-Putin Talks on Maine Coast to Face Reality of Rocky Relations


Byline: David R. Sands, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

For once, it is crystal clear where U.S.-Russian relations are headed in one of the most testy and testing times in their bilateral ties since the end of the Cold War: Kennebunkport, Maine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will be the first foreign leader ever hosted by President Bush at his family's compound on the New England coast when the two meet for two days of private talks beginning July 1.

But whether the unprecedented get-together will succeed in lowering the temperature and solving a string of problems between Moscow and Washington is another matter.

U.S. officials have been taken aback by the intensity of Mr. Putin's rhetoric in recent months and his combative stand on issues ranging from energy policy and plans for a U.S. missile-defense system in Eastern Europe to the entire thrust of American policy since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Mr. Bush, who issued the Kennebunkport invitation last month in a bid to calm the waters, acknowledged at the just-concluded Group of Eight summit of leading industrial powers that divisions between Russia and the United States have a way of producing unease for the international community as a whole.

"There's a lot of people who don't like it when Russia and the United States argue, and it creates tension," Mr. Bush told reporters last week after a meeting with Mr. Putin on the sidelines of the summit in the German resort town of Heiligendamm.

"It's much better to work together than it is to create tensions," Mr. Bush said.

But analysts said creating tensions now appears to be Mr. Putin's primary agenda item, dating back to a stinging speech he gave in February to a major defense conference held annually in Munich.

With U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and top European defense officials in the audience, Mr. Putin ripped into what he said were Washington's ambitions to create a "unipolar world" with "one single center of power, one single center of force and one single master."

"One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way," Mr. Putin said. ".. Well, who likes this? Who is happy about this?"

A follow-up speech by the Russian leader

during Moscow's May celebrations of victory in World War II forced Russian diplomats to deny that Mr Putin had implicitly likened U.S. foreign policy with that of Nazi Germany.

The Bush administration, with hot wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and looming crises in Iran and North Korea, has been anxious not to pick a new fight with Moscow, despite deepening concerns about the Kremlin's commitment to human rights, open markets and political liberties.

National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley last week noted that Moscow and Washington cooperate on a broad range of issues, including curbing nuclear nonproliferation and counterterrorism.

Mr. Gates in Munich tried to deflect Mr. Putin's attack, joking that "one Cold War was enough."

Mr. Bush dispatched Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Moscow in May in an effort at least to tone down the war of words.

Missile shield

American officials have dismissed Russian fears that the missile-defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic could ever block Russia's vast nuclear arsenal.

They say the shield is designed against rogue regimes such as Iran or terrorist groups that could potentially obtain a small cache of nuclear weapons.

But Mr. Putin also caught Mr. Bush and American officials off-guard with a proposal in Germany last week to use an old Soviet radar station in Azerbaijan for the planned missile-defense system rather than Poland and the Czech Republic.

The Russian president had previously threatened to retarget Russian missiles aimed at Europe in an effort to "defeat" the U. …

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