First, Bush wrapped up his business in Bucharest by meeting with
Romania's prime minister, Calin Popescu Tariceanu.
Bush congratulated the Romanian leader for "hosting a very
successful NATO summit" and brought up a sensitive issue that is
raised whenever he meets with officials from Central and Eastern
European nations - their citizens' lack of ability to travel to the
United States without visas like people from other European nations
"I fully understand that contradiction," Bush said, without
making promises of resolution.
Bush then headed for Zagreb, Croatia, for evening events and
meetings on Saturday before he moves on Russia to see Putin.
Bush went into the first of the discussions with Putin a day
after having won NATO backing to install a missile shield in the
former Soviet eastern European satellites of Poland and the Czech
Republic over Russian objections.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called it a "breakthrough
agreement" for the military alliance, and it was sugarcoated by
the announcement of a U.S. deal with the Czech Republic to host a
radar site vital to the missile defense system.
But Bush lost, at least for the moment, a highly public spat
over opening the door to NATO membership to Ukraine and Georgia,
which Putin vehemently opposes. Instead of the immediate start to
that process that he wanted, Bush got a written commitment from the
allies, including Germany and France, which shared Russian
concerns, that the two nations will become NATO members at some
point. Bush plans to continue to press the matter before his second
term expires in January.
A senior Russian diplomat said NATO's pledge of eventual
membership to Ukraine and Georgia had badly soured ties between the
alliance and Moscow. "A culture of searching for solutions on the
basis of taking mutual interests into account has been lost,"
Sergei Ryabkov, chief of the Russian Foreign Ministry's department
for European cooperation, told reporters in Bucharest before the
meeting between Putin and NATO's 26 leaders, including Bush.
Russia also remains deeply worried by the alliance's support for
the U.S. missile shield.
"We can't sit aside and watch how they rubber-stamp decisions
made by other people changing security situation for Russia,"
Tensions even erupted over how the NATO-Russia meeting was
conducted. The Kremlin's spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, complained
that television coverage of the session ended before Putin spoke,
denying the Russian leader a chance to speak publicly, unlike a
NATO-Ukraine meeting earlier Friday.
But Ryabkov emphasized that Russia had something to offer NATO
despite the differences. Moscow struck a deal to allow the military
alliance to ship non-lethal freight across Russia to NATO forces
fighting in Afghanistan. "We work in a pragmatic way and continue
to cooperate with NATO in areas where our interests are close or
coincide," Ryabkov said.
Rice said both Bush and Putin were expected to produce "a
strategic framework" to guide relations between Washington and
Moscow under their successors. "Part of that has to be some
discussion of missile defense," Rice said. She stopped short of
saying outright that the two leaders would find agreement on the
prickly subject, though White House officials have been predicting
this seemed possible, if not probable.
Russia views the system as designed to weaken its military might
and upset the balance of power in Europe. Bush argues that the
shield is not aimed at Russia but at Mideast countries such as
In a series of concessions, the White House has offered to let
Moscow monitor the sites and promised to delay activation of the
shield until Iran or another adversary tests a missile capable of
Rice said the Russians indicated that those measures were viewed
as "useful and important" when she and Defense Secretary Robert
Gates were in Moscow last month. "We hope that we can move beyond
that to an understanding that we all have an interest in
cooperation on missile defense. But we will see."
The NATO endorsement of the U.S. missile plan said "ballistic
missile proliferation poses an increasing threat to allies' forces,
territory and populations. Missile defense forms part of a broader
response to counter this threat."
The statement called on NATO members to explore ways in which
the planned U.S. project can be linked with future missile shields
elsewhere. It said leaders should come up with recommendations to
be considered at their next meeting in 2009.
Significantly, the document prodded Russia "to take advantage
of United States missile defense cooperation proposals" and said
NATO was "ready to explore the potential for linking United
States, NATO and Russian missile defense systems at an appropriate
The United States still is moving to seal an agreement with
Poland, where 10 interceptor rockets would be based.
On the Net:
NATO Summit declaration: http://tinyurl.com/29wnp4
NATO summit site: http://tinyurl.com/3yuwr2
White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/nato/
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)