Putin to visit Bushes' compound

Informal vacation in Maine is intended to ease tensions in U.S.-Russian relations

May 31, 2007|By Maura Reynolds | Maura Reynolds,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- In an effort to warm the deepening chill in U.S.-Russian relations, President Bush will host Russian President Vladimir V. Putin next month at his family's vacation compound in Kennebunkport, Maine.

The two men claim to have a friendly relationship, even as serious strains have developed between the two countries over NATO's plans to install missile defense systems in former Soviet bloc countries, the status of Kosovo and other issues.

U.S. officials said yesterday that the aim of the Kennebunkport visit is to ease tensions, starting at the top.

The presence of the president's father, former President George Bush, during the visit was also seen as a way to personalize the encounter and evoke a more optimistic period in U.S.-Russian relations.

"There are some areas where we disagree, where we've had open disagreements," said White House spokesman Tony Snow. "One of the interesting things about the president and President Putin is that they are not afraid to ventilate them, and they're brutally honest with one another."

In recent weeks, Putin and his aides have sharpened their comments about the U.S. and its foreign policy. The Russian president on one occasion drew an apparent parallel between what he described as an American trend toward unilateralism and the policies of the Third Reich.

Yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed hope that the summit would see "the continuation of dialogue and the advancement of projects that our two presidents have jointly proposed," especially in the areas of nuclear proliferation and energy cooperation.

But Lavrov also dismissed repeated U.S. assurances that the NATO missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic does not pose a threat to Russia.

"This global missile defense is being - by accident or deliberately - deployed around Russia," Lavrov said in remarks reported by the RIA Novosti news agency. "I don't think this is something Russia should take lightly, and I hope our U.S. partners respect our analysis."

Analysts praised Bush for trying to improve relations before they deteriorate further. "It's absolutely the right thing to do to stop the dangerous dynamic of distrust that has developed," said Carlos Pascual, a career diplomat who served under President Bill Clinton and both Bushes, and now heads the foreign policy studies program at the Brookings Institution.

"There's a danger we can each entrench ourselves in positions that are harder to get out of if we allow this dynamic to develop. Neither of us can frankly afford that."

A senior Bush administration official said the agenda would include discussion of trouble spots, including relations with Iran and the disagreement over independence for Kosovo, the Serbian province now administered by the United Nations. But he said it would also include social outings. Guests to the Bush compound in Kennebunkport have participated in fishing, tennis and golf.

Maura Reynolds writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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