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Russia: Bush, Putin Begin Summit In Slovenia

Brdo Castle, Slovenia; 16 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The presidents of the United States and Russia, George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin, have begun their summit talks outside the Slovene capital Ljubljana.

The talks are scheduled to last two hours, and to be followed by a joint press conference (after 1700 local and Prague time).

Before going into the summit, the two leaders strolled together around the gardens of the castle which is the site of their meeting.

The talks are likely to focus on Bush's plans to develop a missile defense system, and his determination to expand NATO further eastwards -- both developments opposed by Putin. Trade and the crises in the Balkans and Middle East may also figure in the agenda.

Earlier both Bush and Putin held separate talks with Slovenia's President Milan Kucan and Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek. This is the last day of Bush's tour of Europe.

In other news, Putin today appointed Igor Yusufov as Russian energy minister and Vitaly Artyukhov as Russia's natural resources minister. Yusufov replaces acting Energy Minister Ivan Matlashov.

Matlashov has been in charge of the energy portfolio since Putin removed Aleksandr Gavrin from office last February for his failure to cope with an energy crisis in the Russian Far East.

Artyukhov takes over the natural resources portfolio from Boris Yatskevich, who was transferred to another job.

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said other decisions regarding the government's structure will be made in the near future. He did not elaborate.