President Bush and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, face to face for the first time today, apparently liked what they found and plan to meet again.
At a joint press conference in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana, Bush said the two had agreed to future talks. "I have invited President Putin to Washington this fall. He accepted. He invited me to Russia and I accepted. And I look forward to the visit."
Stressing the importance of collaboration between the two nations, Bush added he and the Russian president had agreed to launch an "extensive dialogue" about a wide range of issues. "Russia and America have the opportunity to accomplish much together. We should seize it and today we have begun," said Bush.
Putin did acknowledge to reporters that the two still disagree about the U.S.'s construction of a missile shield. The issue has been a major source of contention between the two.Putin believes that the missile shield would imply that the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which forbids such defensive systems and which Russia views as a bedrock of strategic stability for the last three decades would essentially be over.
Bush assures Putin that the shield's purpose is to guard against what he called "rogue states." But after the meeting, Putin told reporters, "The 1972 ABM Treaty is the cornerstone of the modern architecture of international security."
Trust From the Texan
Still, Putin also was pleased by his first meeting with Bush.
The U.S. president answered with an emphatic yes when asked if he trusted Putin. "He's an honest, straightforward man who loves his country. He loves his family. We share a lot of values." Added the former Texas governor: "I wouldn't have invited him to my ranch if I didn't trust him."
Officials with both leaders had not expected any major agreements or breakthroughs between the two leaders, who had met in a closed-door gathering at the medieval hilltop Brdo Castle. Rather, this is considered more of a "meet and greet" kind of session. And Bush has been saying, first and foremost, he wants to develop a sense of trust between the two presidents.
Talks between the two leaders and their contingents will involve a slew of thorny issues including weapons proliferation on Russia's southern borders, NATO enlargement, and situations in the Mideast and the Balkans.
Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel also told reporters of the meeting between the two leaders: "My wish is that the United States, NATO and Russia should commit themselves to finding a solution to the crisis in Macedonia."
Push for NATO, EU Expansion
During earlier parts of his tour, Bush urged counterparts across the Atlantic to support expansion of the 19-member NATO alliance and the strengthening of ties with Russia, telling European leaders, "My nation welcomes the consolidation of European unity and the security it brings."
The president has also pushed for the enlargement of the 15-nation European Union. As heads of state and government met at the organization's summit in Gothenburg, Sweden, some 25,000 protesters who have descended on the city demonstrated against the EU. Hundreds of rioters clashed with police, leaving two of the protesters wounded from gunfire.
Many members of NATO, whose leaders Bush met with Wednesday, also oppose Bush's plans and argue that scrapping the ABM treaty could ignite a new arms race with Russia. But the president renewed his commitment to developing a system to defend against an unintentional missile launch or a strike from a rogue nation.
"The basis for our mutual security must move beyond Cold War doctrines," Bush said this afternoon. "Today we face growing threats from weapons of mass destruction and missiles in the hands of states for whom terror and blackmail are a way of life."
Senior administration officials who sat in on Bush's closed-door meeting with fellow NATO leaders in Brussels this week said a number of European allies expressed support for the controversial concept.