Bush, Putin move summit venue from Washington to Texas ranch

Officials play down any expectations of a major agreement

War On Terrorism : The World

November 15, 2001|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

CRAWFORD, Texas - President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia arrived here amid the scrubby fields of Texas ranch country yesterday as the scene of his three-day summit with President Bush shifted from formal Washington to Bush's home in the heartland.

White House officials sought to play down expectations for any major agreement to emerge here over Bush's desire to build a missile defense system.

"Don't look for anything of that nature," said Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman.

Putin arrived at the ranch in the afternoon, after delivering a speech at Rice University in Houston. The Russian president told students that he saw no reason why NATO - which was created as a bulwark against the Soviet military - could not form a close partnership with Moscow.

Noting that Russia is a crucial player in the fight against international terrorism, Putin said, "The leaders of NATO countries now understand that if there is an ally which can bring contribution in confronting those threats, this is Russia."

As recently as last summer, Putin had expressed discomfort about the expansion of NATO to include some former Soviet republics.

One day after Bush and Putin pledged a sharp reduction in their nuclear arms stockpiles, the two settled into a informal evening at Bush's ranch. Putin partook of a Texas-style dinner - which included Southern fried catfish, guacamole salad and Texas onion butter cornbread muffins - and slept at a guesthouse on the property.

At dinner, the presidents listened to a Texas swing band and dined alongside more than two dozen guests who included pianist Van Cliburn, golfer Ben Crenshaw and dignitaries from both nations.

Even though rain has been falling in Crawford, Bush hopes to fit in a tour of his ranch for Putin today. "I want to show him some of my favorite spots on the ranch," Bush said.

When Putin arrived at the ranch by helicopter, Bush, clad in boots and faded blue jeans, was at the wheel of a pickup truck.

On his first visit to the United States as president, Putin told his audience at Rice University that he thought the Lone Star State possessed a "romantic magnetism which captivates everyone who knows and loves America."

For Russians, he said, "the South of America is a well-settled and economically rich region, a region which we don't have to start cooperating with from scratch, because we already have a lot in common. This includes the oil and gas sector."

Putin had set as one of his summit goals portraying Russia as a viable source of oil and natural gas for the United States and other countries concerned about relying too heavily on the Middle East for energy supplies. Such an arrangement would benefit Russia's economy if it could attract more American oil companies to invest in oil exploration in Russia.

U.S. and Russian officials have discussed ways in which their countries could cooperate on the Caspian Pipeline and Sakhalin oil projects that are already under way in Russia.

U.S. officials said the policy discussions that remain in the summit would focus on such economic issues. But the officials said not to expect any formal agreements in those areas before Putin leaves today for New York City, where he will visit the site of the World Trade Center.

Bush, who is visiting his ranch for the first time since Sept. 11, had said he looked forward to taking Putin on "a couple of nice long walks."

"The best diplomacy starts with getting to know each other," Bush said. "I want him to know my values, and I want to know his values."

Asked whether it would be a breakthrough visit, Bush said: "I don't think there is a particular moment where a relationship breaks through. It takes a while to build up the trust necessary for him to know that I intend to keep my word when I'm going to say something, and vice versa."

Some foreign policy observers suggested that summits that place two world leaders in an informal setting where they can develop personal chemistry, even if they produce no formal accords, can lay the groundwork for breakthroughs later.

`Room for ... atmospherics'

"If this were Putin's second or third visit, it may wear thin," said Susan Eisenhower, president of the Eisenhower Institute and a longtime scholar of U.S.-Russian affairs. "This is Putin's first invitation from Bush to the United States. There is room for some atmospherics."

With the terrorist attacks still fresh in people's minds and the war raging in Afghanistan, Eisenhower said, Bush and Putin were wise not to focus their summit on a contentious issue such as missile defense.

"Both sides are pretty much dug in on that," she said. "So both presidents have decided that the war on terrorism takes precedent and that finding things they can agree on is more important. So Putin goes home in no worse a position, because he didn't cave, and Bush gained by not having spoiled the opportunity to seek Russia's help on anti-terrorism."

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