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Bush, Putin Meet Amid Strained Ties On G8 Sidelines

Bush and Putin haven't been seeing eye to eye lately (file photo) (CTK) HEILIGENDAMM, Germany, June 7, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Amid a deepening chill in U.S.-Russian relations, the countries' presidents are to hold bilateral talks today on the sidelines of the Group of Eight (G8) summit in Germany.

The three-day summit, which formally kicked off today in the German coastal resort of Heiligendamm, is likely to feature some tense exchanges as the leaders of the world's wealthiest economies remain deeply divided on a range of issues. These include climate change -- with Washington opposing firm targets for greenhouse-gas cuts -- and a host of international issues such as Iran's nuclear activities and the future of Serbia's Kosovo province.

Shield Clouds Relations

But perhaps the darkest cloud hanging over the G8 summit is Russia's anger at U.S. plans to deploy elements of an antimissile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. While Washington insists the system is intended as a defense against attacks by "rogue" states such as Iran and North Korea, Moscow says it is directed against Russia.

Bush and Putin will meet face-to-face for the first time since the Russian leader in February blamed Washington for what he called "ruinous" attempts to impose its will on the world.

In the run-up to the summit, Russia has stepped up its rhetoric.

Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to retarget missiles on Europe if Washington pushes ahead with the shield, which he said would upset the "entire configuration of international security."

Speaking to reporters in Heiligendamm, U.S. President George W. Bush sought to defuse tensions.

"It is important for Russia and Russians to understand that I believe the Cold War ended," Bush said. "That Russia is not an enemy of the United States, that there are a lot of areas where we can work together, for example in Iran, or areas of [nuclear non-] proliferation -- that there's a lot of constructive work we can do."

Bush's tone, however, was less conciliatory during his stopover in Prague this week, where he discussed the antimissile system with Czech officials before heading to Heiligendamm. He made it clear that he has no intention of backing down on the plan, and also drew an angry response from the Kremlin by saying Russia had "derailed" democratic reforms.

Bush and Putin will meet face-to-face today for the first time since the Russian leader in February blamed Washington for what he called "ruinous" attempts to impose its will on the world.

Calm Reacquaintance

But as RFE/RL's correspondent Irina Lagunina reports from Heiligendamm, the two leaders began their G8 dialogue on June 6 on a positive note.

"We know that yesterday during dinner, George Bush and Vladimir Putin had a brief tete-a-tete," Lagunina said. "What is being said here in the corridors is that it was a very calm conversation, a calm exchange of remarks."

Despite all the harsh words coming into the G8 meeting, Bush and Putin appear likely to save their most difficult discussions for a planned bilateral meeting in the United States next month and instead allow the G8 summit to focus on its main agenda points -- climate change and aid to Africa.

Missile Defense: Not In My Backyard?

Missile Defense: Not In My Backyard?

AN RFE/RL VIDEO PRESENTATION: The Czech Republic responds to the U.S. missile-defense proposal.