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Bush-Putin summit to address differences, highlight positive legacy

RIA Novosti

29/06/2007 13:32 MOSCOW, June 29 (RIA Novosti) - Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and George W. Bush of the United States will meet this weekend to try to relieve tensions between their countries before they both leave office in 2008.

Bush will receive the Russian leader at his family's estate in Kennebunkport, Maine, on July 1 and 2, a Kremlin aide told reporters at a preview briefing Friday.

"Given that the presidents are in for a detailed conversation on a whole range of topical issues and an international agenda, the American side's choice of the venue seems ideal: the leaders' informal talks in an unofficial setting will create the right conditions for [a high level of] efficiency we are hoping for," Sergei Prikhodko said.

While at Kennebunkport, Putin and Bush will try to overcome differences that have sent the U.S.-Russian relationship to its lowest point since the breakup of the Soviet Union. The meeting may be the two leaders' last opportunity to reverse the decline before their presidential terms expire next year.

The presidents are also expected to emphasize the positive legacy of their seven-year contacts, especially since 2007 marks the bicentenary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between their nations.

"The two leaders are to talk about the foundation of Russian-American relations with an eye to the future, about ways to consolidate the assets accumulated by the George W. Bush administration in the past seven years and to ensure a long-time continuity."

Putin and Bush will use the summit to follow up on their discussions of a controversial U.S. missile defense plan in Europe, Prikhodko said.

During his latest meeting with Bush on the sidelines of a Group of Eight summit in Germany, Putin suggested Washington deploy its European missile shield on a Russia-rented base in Azerbaijan rather than in Central Europe.

The U.S. leader described the proposal as interesting and promised to consider it at length, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates later said the U.S. was unlikely to use the Azerbaijani base as a substitute for its prospective missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, which is allegedly intended to protect the country and its European allies against potential strikes by Iran and other rogue states.

"The fact that President George W. Bush has responded to the proposal positively and with interest gives hope for a denouement that will enable our countries to counter actual missile threats without endangering each other," Prikhodko said.

Nuclear arms control and cooperation in the nuclear industry will also be high on the summit agenda, he said.

Specifically, the presidents will discuss a possible replacement for the Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (START), expiring in December 2009.

"We expect the presidents to take up the topic, bearing in mind that [during the G8 summit] in St. Petersburg last year, they instructed experts to review the treaty and determine which of its [provisions] should be taken into a future agreement," he said.

Less controversial issues, such as collaboration on civilian nuclear programs, are also likely to come under discussion, the Kremlin aide said.

"One can predict with certainty that the presidents will continue their in-depth discussion [of civilian nuclear cooperation issues] with an emphasis on the fact that Russia and the U.S. could consolidate their leadership in organizing collective measures to promote civilian nuclear engineering for all interested states to benefit - provided their strict compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, of course."

Cooperation in that area should be based on Russia's initiative to set up an international uranium enrichment center in Siberia and on the U.S.' proposal to use civilian nuclear power as part of a Global Energy Partnership program, Prikhodko said.

"These initiatives are mutually complementary, and could together form an attractive alternative to states seeking to develop a nuclear industry without creating any proliferation risks."

In the leadup to the summit, U.S. authorities are tightening security in the Kennebunkport area. Airspace over Bush's estate has been shut for flights within a radius of 16 kilometers (10 miles) since late Thursday, and the ban will remain in effect till midday July 2.

Measures are also being taken to ensure coastal security for the oceanfront compound.

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