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Russia: Bush-Putin Summit -- Trying To Build Better Relations

  • Frank Csongos

U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet for the first time on 16 June in Slovenia. Independent U.S. analysts say the two nations have plenty of common interests as well as areas of disagreements.

Washington, 14 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush says his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana on Saturday will give him an opportunity to establish friendlier relations between Washington and Moscow.

White House officials say the summit is expected to last a little over two hours. It will be the first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders.

While no longer adversaries with thousands of nuclear weapons aimed at each other, the U.S. and Russia are not allies either. However, both countries share key areas of concern on regional security, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, human rights, and economic development.

Bush said on Tuesday about the upcoming summit:

"I look forward to meeting with Russian President Putin to set out a new and constructive and realistic relationship between Russia and the United States. I am looking forward to talking to President Putin, to assure him of our friendship and offer him a strong, normal relationship with America."

Analysts say a cooperative relationship with Russia is becoming increasingly important to the U.S.

In a recent interview with RFE/RL, Dimitri Simes, president of the Washington-based Nixon Center, said Russia is no longer a military threat to the United States despite the fact that it still has thousands of nuclear weapons.

"It is practically impossible to visualize a scenario under which Russian missiles could be fired against the United States."

Simes said one can understand Russian concern about NATO expanding closer to its border. In 1999, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic -- former Warsaw Pact members -- joined the western alliance. Next year in Prague, NATO will make a decision which countries, if any, would be invited to join. The Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are among those seeking membership. Russia opposes that.

But Bush said while visiting Spain on Tuesday that NATO should accept all qualified democracies seeking to join. He said: "It's not a question of 'whether' it is a question of 'when.' We firmly believe NATO should expand. There is a process for member applicants to go through and we support that process. I will also say that no nation should have a veto over who is admitted into NATO."

Simes ponders how the United States would feel if Russia established military bases in Cuba -- just a few kilometers off the Florida shore -- or in other Latin American countries such as Venezuela. Still, Simes, says, NATO expansion is strictly for the alliance to handle.

"Obviously, Russia should not have a veto power over who is invited to join NATO. Obviously, the countries on [the] Russian periphery have legitimate concerns about their security, independence, and there is a reason for them why they would want to become a part of a trans-Atlantic geopolitical security umbrella."

The Heritage Foundation, an independent think-tank based in Washington, says Bush should focus the summit agenda on the key areas on which the two countries should cooperate. The group says further reductions of both countries' strategic nuclear arsenals is one area. Other areas, the foundation says, include the potential spread of Russian weapons of mass destruction and related technologies to China and rogue states such as North Korea, Iran, and Iraq, and the U.S.-led development of a global missile defense force.

Development of a missile shield is currently prohibited by the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) signed by Washington and Moscow nearly three decades ago. Bush said: "The ABM treaty is a relic of the past. It prevents freedom-loving people from exploring the future and that is why we have got to lay it aside. And that is why we have to have the discussions necessary to explain to our friends and allies as well as Russia that our intent is to make the world more peaceful, not more dangerous."

The Heritage Foundation says that despite a stern warning from Moscow that Russia will refuse to alter the 1972 ABM Treaty, the Kremlin is likely to believe that Bush's efforts to deploy a missile defense system are inevitable.

It says in an analysis it issued in Washington ahead of the summit that Bush should expect the Russians to try to link as many unrelated issues as possible to missile defense in order to forestall the deployment decision.