By ANDREA DUDIKOVA
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia - Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Ukraine are likely to dominate this week's summit between President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Slovakia's prime minister said.
Bush arrives in Slovakia late Wednesday after visiting Belgium and Germany. He will meet with Slovak officials on Thursday before his talks with Putin - Bush's first meeting with the Russian leader since he began his second term.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said on Sunday that he believed everyone involved in the nuclear standoff with Iran had a common goal to ease tensions.
"So if the goal is common ... I'm sure that we are able to discuss and look for common approach,'' Dzurinda said.
The prime minister, a staunch supporter of the United States whose country has deployed about 100 troops to Iraq, said he prefers "to use the space for negotiations, for diplomacy,'' adding he was sure "this space is still open.''
Dzurinda said he regretted the rift that has widened between some European countries and the United States over Iraq. But he refused to budge in his support of Washington.
"I want to tell President Bush that I highly appreciate his policy, his strong and courageous leadership,'' Dzurinda said. "It was not easy to decide to go to Iraq, to Afghanistan ... but reality shows that it was the right decision at the right time.''
"I'm very happy that President Bush showed such a strong leadership,'' Dzurinda said. "Slovakia is and will be a strong ally of the U.S.''
Bush will be the first U.S. president to visit this ex-communist country since it gained independence following the 1993 split of former Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Describing the forthcoming visit as "very, very emotional,'' Dzurinda recalled the many generations of Slovaks who have emigrated to the United States or have looked up to the country while they endured 41 years or communist rule.
"America was and still is still a symbol of freedom and democracy,'' he said.
Dzurinda, a two-time prime minister who led Slovakia out of international isolation under his authoritarian predecessor, Vladimir Meciar, said his country - a new member of NATO and the European Union - was chosen to host the upcoming summit because of its success in making the transformation to democracy.
Bush echoed that sentiment in a recent interview with European reporters, including a journalist from the Slovakian daily Sme, which published excerpts Monday.
Bush told the reporters he wanted to congratulate Slovaks for what they have done "for democracy and freedom.'' He said he was coming to Slovakia because he liked the country's leaders and its story, and to hold the nation up as an example to other countries.