Bush, Putin in missile talks

2008-04-05 19:09

Sochi, Russia - President George W Bush arrived in Russia on Saturday hoping to soften President Vladimir Putin's opposition to US missile defence plans, but the White House downplayed talk of a breakthrough.

Speaking to reporters travelling on Bush's plane to Sochi, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said it would be "premature" to hope for a US-Russia agreement on the US missile scheme.

"We're going to have to do more work after Sochi," she said.

"No one has said that everything would be finalised and everyone would be satisfied."

She said the United States and Russia were "still in the early part of these discussions" but also described the talks as "headed in the right direction."

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov was more circumspect about the chances of progress.

"Let's wait until tomorrow's negotiations," he said.

Solid footing

The meeting between Bush and Putin at the Russian leader's Black Sea coastal home in southern Russia has been billed by both sides as an attempt to put US-Russian relations on a more solid footing before the two men leave office.

Officials said Putin, who leaves the Kremlin next month, and Bush, who leaves the White House in January, were expected to issue a "strategic framework" paper to act as a general roadmap for relations in the years ahead.

Although Bush and Putin have long spoken of their personal friendship, acrimony in US-Russian relations has grown in the past seven years, and both hoped the Sochi talks could put a more positive lustre on their legacy.

But despite the relaxed oceanside setting, it was the tension between Russia and the United States over Washington's missile defence plan that was likely to be in the spotlight in Sochi.

Protection needed

The plan calls for installing nine US interceptor missiles in former Warsaw Pact member Poland and a powerful radar in another ex-Soviet satellite, the Czech Republic.

Bush says the system is needed to protect the United States and its allies from missile attack by "rogue states" like Iran. Putin says Iran poses no missile threat to the United States and sees the US plan as a threat to Russia.

The US plan got a major boost when it was endorsed by the 26 members of Nato at the alliance's summit in Bucharest this week.

After taking some heat last year for essentially ignoring Russia's worries about the missile defence plan, the United States has in the past six months moved to assuage some of Moscow's concerns.

Russia has described those moves as "useful and important" and Washington had voiced hope that Moscow would at least acknowledge in the Sochi document those US moves to address its concerns over the missile system.