St. Petersburg, 22 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush has sought to assure Russian President Vladimir Putin that NATO's eastward expansion posed no threat to Russia. Bush met today with Putin in St. Petersburg, where the U.S. president arrived from a NATO summit in Prague. At the summit, the alliance formally invited seven former communist countries, including the Baltic republics, to join. In St. Petersburg, Bush said, "My message today to the Russian people is that what took place in Prague is good for Russia."
Russia previously had adamantly opposed NATO enlargement but Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov yesterday said his nation was now treating the alliance's expansion "calmly".
At a news conference after the talks, Putin said that Russia was prepared to intensify its cooperation with NATO despite the alliance's decision to expand eastward. "As far as the [NATO] enlargement is concerned, you know our position. We do not believe that it has been necessitated, but we accept the position of the president of the United States and we hope for positive development of our relations with all NATO countries. As to the bloc as a whole, as it is being transformed, we do not rule out the possibility of deepening our relations with the alliance, but of course if it doesn't act against Russia's national interests."
Bush and Putin were also set to address the crisis surrounding Iraq. In a joint statement released as they met, the two sides reiterated their demand that Iraq comply with UN resolutions on its disarmament, or face "serious consequences."
Bush will fly to Lithuania later in the day where he will meet with the presidents of the three Baltic republics.