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INTRO: Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Bush held private talks last week at Camp David. Fiona Hill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, discusses the current state of relations between the two super powers with David Borgida.


And now joining us, from the Brookings Institution here in Washington, Fiona Hill, an expert on the U-S-Russian relationship and other matters. Ms. Hill, thanks so much for being with us.


Thanks, David.


I don't know if you saw that joint news conference, but as they walked to the gathered reporters there did seem to be, if you could read nonverbal communications, some distance between them, and indeed there was. What's your view about how those conversations went at Camp David? It seemed like there was a bit of a chill; they agreed to disagree.


Yes. And I think there's a lot of disagreements between Russia and the United States, some left over from the disagreement, the very first disagreement, over the war in Iraq.

And as you'll remember, President Putin and the rest of the Russian leadership and the Russian population were, like many others in Europe and elsewhere, very much opposed to unilateral U.S. actions in Iraq, even though it was eventually glossed over with the participation of Great Britain and many others. They still wanted to see the United Nations play a leading role there.

And even before the conflict over Iraq that erupted between the U.S. and Russia and other states, there were a lot of concerns on the part of the Russians about the direction of U.S. policy, even though there has obviously been a great deal of cooperation since September 11th of 2001 on the war on terrorism.

So I think what we were seeing at Camp David in the body language is a reflection of the distance that still remains between the U.S. and Russia on a number of fronts. But at the same time there was also a great effort to gloss over these differences and to try to present some semblance of a united front. There is a hope on both sides that there will be a warming in the relationship.

And I think that overall we got what we expected to get from this summit meeting between Presidents Bush and Putin. It was relatively cordial. There was an attempt to find areas of compromise on a number of critical issues, including on Iran, including on Iraq. And most of the differences that we still have out front and center were put to one side in the press conference.


What's your explanation for this apparent putting aside of the differences; is it because they both need each other for perhaps domestic political reasons at home, to make it appear that the United States and Russia are still strong, or what is your assessment of that?


It's a bit of a mixture of all of those things. Certainly for the United States it's very important right now to show that there is a lot more international participation as we look forward to the rebuilding of Iraq.

The Bush-Putin summit comes right out of the appearance of President Bush in front of the United Nations General Assembly, where it was very clear the United States was really hoping for more of an up swell of international support for the rebuilding efforts, perhaps getting some more troops from other countries to participate in the restoration of security in Iraq, and certainly a great hope that there will be international commitments for the rebuilding of Iraq.

In the case of Russia, it's unlikely that Russia will provide either of those things, either money or troops. But Russia, given its position on the Security Council and its own desire for the United Nations to play a more active role, could be quite important as an interlocutor for the United States in this regard.

If it looks like Russia is amenable to working with the United States on this issue within the United Nations, that could be a boost to the United States' efforts to get other countries on board.

For the Russians themselves, they're also hoping that they will be able to participate in the rebuilding of Iraq, especially on the energy side of things. Russia had some major contracts in Iraq for the exploration and the exploitation of some of the major Iraqi oil and gas fields. And the Russians were very concerned before the war that these contracts would be thrown out in the event of a U.S. occupation of Iraq.


And Ms. Hill, there is also continuing concern from the Bush administration about Russia's business relationships with Iran. But that perhaps will be grist for our next interview in the weeks ahead.


That's right. Thank you.


Fiona Hill of the Brookings Institution, thanks so much for your time.


Thanks, David.


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