LIMA (Reuters) - George W. Bush held his last meeting as U.S. president with a Russian leader on Saturday, telling Dmitry Medvedev he had worked hard to make it a "cordial relationship" despite difficult disagreements.
The meeting, at a summit of Asia Pacific leaders in Peru, came against a backdrop of chilly U.S.-Russian relations following Moscow's war with Georgia in August and Washington's agreement to base a missile defense system in Eastern Europe.
"It's an interesting moment because I've had a lot of meetings with Dmitry and Vladimir Putin," said Bush, who once famously told reporters he had gotten a sense of Putin's soul. "This will be my last meeting as the sitting president with the leader of Russia."
"We've had our agreements. We have had our disagreements. I've tried to work hard to make it a cordial relationship so when we need to work together we can, and when we disagree we're able to do so in a way that is respectful to our two nations," he said.
Medvedev, who shook hands with the U.S. president in a flag-draped hallway of the waterfront Marriott hotel, agreed the two sides had kept lines of communication open.
"Generally, despite the existence of points in which we strongly differ, we have worked well and will continue this work," the Russian leader said.
Bush and Medvedev discussed a range of topics, from the Georgia conflict and missile defense to Iran's nuclear program, officials for the two sides said. They agreed to explore a joint strategy toward the recent bout of piracy off the Horn of Africa.
"The meeting went in a very good atmosphere, with both leaders understanding the importance of relations between the two countries," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters. "There was a clear desire not to get obsessed with differences."
"President Bush and President Medvedev had a cordial, but honest and direct exchange," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said in a statement. "They discussed a variety of issues, including our differences on Georgia, which continue."
Russia sent troops into the former Soviet republic in August after Tbilisi tried to impose central government control over the breakaway region of South Ossetia, a pro-Moscow area that threw off Georgian rule in 1991-1992.
The United States sided with Georgia in the dispute, and the rhetoric sharpened between Moscow and Washington over whether Russia was moving quickly enough to implement the terms of a French-negotiated cease-fire.
Washington sought to reassure Eastern Europeans, including those seeking future entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. And it went ahead with the signing of an agreement to base part of a missile defense system in Poland, prompting Moscow to threaten to place missiles nearby.
Washington says the system is aimed at so-called rogue states like Iran with a limited number of missiles, but Russia views the move as an act of aggression.
Lavrov said he had discussed missile defense with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice while in Lima and they agreed to hold more consultations in late December.
Before the meeting with Medvedev on Saturday, Bush issued a statement praising Georgia's "Rose Revolution" five years ago, when peaceful protests over a flawed election ultimately led to the fall of former leader Eduard Shevardnadze.
Perino there was no message in the timing of the statement's release.
"From where I stand, it was purely coincidence," she told a briefing.