Notes of diplomacy amid tour of St. Petersburg

While building friendship, Bush and Putin urge India and Pakistan to avoid war

May 26, 2002|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW - A day after signing a historic nuclear arms treaty, President Bush and Russian President Vladimir V. Putin shifted their attention yesterday to India and Pakistan and together urged those nuclear-armed nations to avoid a major war.

During a visit with Bush to a museum in St. Petersburg, Putin scolded Pakistan for conducting routine missile tests yesterday as tensions rose with India over the disputed border region of Kashmir. The testing, Putin told reporters, "really aggravates the situation."

"Russia is concerned and sorry about that," Putin said. "I am sorry about that."

Bush strongly urged Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to keep a promise to begin cracking down on Islamic militant groups who are crossing the border into Kashmir and conducting attacks. "There is no benefit of a clash that could eventually lead to a broader war," Bush said.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told reporters traveling with Bush that the United States was "disappointed" by the nuclear tests. "I don't think it was a particularly useful thing to do right now, even though I don't think it causes us to get any closer to a conflict," he said.

Aside from that bit of team diplomacy, Bush and Putin spent a mostly relaxing day. Bush took a morning jog at Putin's house west of Moscow, where the presidents enjoyed a Russian-style dinner Friday night that included a lecture about caviar by Putin.

Despite disagreements over Russia's relationship with Iran that emerged during summit talks in Moscow, the presidents continued to play up their growing friendship. The two leaders have met on five occasions in the 17 months of Bush's presidency - as many times as President Ronald Reagan met with former Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev over four years.

With the scene of the summit shifting from the capital to St. Petersburg yesterday, Bush's visit became almost a copy of Putin's trip to the United States in the fall. Putin started in Washington, holding formal talks at the White House, then moved on to Bush's Texas ranch, where the leaders enjoyed barbecue and responded to questions from schoolchildren.

In St. Petersburg yesterday, Bush joined Putin at his alma mater, St. Petersburg University, where the leaders fielded questions - sometimes playfully - from the college community.

Offering a concise and candid description of why he is seeking a strong partnership with the United States, the Russian president said that his country for years shunned the West and fell behind, losing out on trading opportunities and damaging its economy. Working with the United States, Putin seemed to suggest, is Russia's best hope for reversing that course.

"The United States is a great and powerful power, and has an economy that is powerful enough to a great extent to determine world economies," Putin said. "For decades, we voluntarily, on our own, created walls and barriers around ourselves and decided to live alone within these walls. And at a time when high technology is absolutely mandatory to the beneficial development of any country, this circumstance is unforgivable.

"Today, in the realms of national security, international security, economics, trade," Putin said, "we now are beginning to blend in together with the world economy."

Bush has promised to help Putin achieve a major goal, winning Russian membership in the World Trade Organization.

Putin reiterated his plea yesterday: "What we need above all for Russia is an absolutely nondiscriminatory access to world markets and to U.S. markets."

But, he added, "We don't need preferences, we don't need subsidies, we don't need special favors. We just want normal, simple, ordinary fair trade relations."

Bush agreed, saying that Russia's accession into the WTO "ought to be based upon the rules that every nation has had to live up to. Nothing harsher, nothing less harsh."

Bush was asked what steps the United States will take to help Russia join the WTO. Bush, who has offered no timeline for when the United States will begin lobbying the WTO on Russia's behalf, sidestepped that question. The process starts, he said instead, "by having a president who thinks you ought to be in the WTO."

Putin jumped on that response.

"George said it very well," he said happily. "The president of Russia has to want to be a member of the WTO, and he said that he's for it. If that is sufficient, I'm in."

The mood was light for most of the day as "George" and "Vladimir," as the presidents referred to each other, toured the State Hermitage Museum, Russia's largest art museum and home to famous works by Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt.

Putin and his wife, Lyudmila, treated the Bushes to a night at the ballet and took them on a twilight boat tour along the Neva River.

Bush leaves today for France, then travels to Italy before returning to Washington late Tuesday.

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