The Independent: President George Bush is expected to use a 24-hour summit with Vladimir Putin at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, to seek support from Russia for a proposal to ratchet up economic sanctions on Iran for its continuing refusal to halt uranium enrichment at its nuclear facilities. The Independent
By David Usborne in New York
President George Bush is expected to use a 24-hour summit with Vladimir Putin at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, to seek support from Russia for a proposal to ratchet up economic sanctions on Iran for its continuing refusal to halt uranium enrichment at its nuclear facilities.
With Mr Putin arriving for dinner last night, and more formal talks today, officials from both sides were lowering expectations of any far-reaching accords.
Indeed, the so-called “Lobster Summit” was widely billed as an attempt by both countries to ease frictions that have erupted across a range of issues. The casual atmosphere that aides will try to depict is likely to include a carefully choreographed fishing trip for Mr Putin on a Bush family yacht. “Don’t expect grand announcements,” a senior US official said. “This is about the two men having a quiet, more informal conversation.” The summit was called at Russia’s request. Mr Putin is on his way to Guatemala for an international Olympics meeting.
The US-Russia relationship is in need of repair. Russia has expressed particular ire at a US plan to place missile interceptors close to its frontiers in Poland and the Czech Republic. There are also differences over the future of Kosovo.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokes-man for Mr Putin, said: “There is a great need for extra attention, extra attention at the highest level, not to let disagreements on either side overshadow our relations. This is the reason for getting together.” How Mr Putin would react to the Iran proposals was unclear.
Last week, US diplomats for the first time discussed with Russia and other members of the United Nations Security Council a plan that would oblige all countries to closely inspect cargo shipments in and out of Iran for technology that could be related to its nuclear programme. Iran has remained defiant before international demands that it halt its nuclear efforts. It insists it is seeking the technology for civil use only but the West remains disbelieving.
Washington is frustrated that earlier rounds of modest UN sanctions have failed to change Iran’s stance and is seeking a more punitive approach soon.
But the topic is a prickly one for Russia, which has deep trade ties with Iran and provided it with technology to build a nuclear generating facility. Without support from Moscow, which carries veto power in the Security Council, the push by the US for a cargo inspection regime could fail.
Russia is also pivotal to efforts at the UN to agree a plan to give Kosovo official independence from Serbia. A plan brokered by the Europeans to give Kosovo official sovereignty and membership of the UN has met resistance from Russia.
The confrontation over missile defence eased slightly at June’s G8 meeting in Germany when Russia surprised the Americans by offering instead to give the US access to its own radar facilities in Azerbaijan. US officials have suggested any such co-operation could not substitute for new systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, but the two leaders are expected to announce the creation of working groups to assess the problem further. Mr Bush plans to use what he has described as his warm personal relations with Mr Putin to end the perception of two major powers slipping back into old habits of enmity.
But with rock-bottom poll ratings, he may be at a disadvantage facing Mr Putin who remains highly popular at home.
Who said what
Bush and Putin have had a complex relationship.
* “I was able to get a sense of his soul,” Bush said of Putin in 2001.
* In 2006, at a G8 summit, Putin said: “We have come up with a joint statement about the importance of fighting acts of nuclear terrorism.” Bush seemed to have been at a different meeting: “I talked about my desire to promote institutional change in parts of the world like Iraq, where there is a free press and free religion, and I told him a lot of people in our country hope Russia would do the same thing.”
* As Bush pressed for missile interceptors in eastern Europe, Putin said: ” If a part of the US nuclear capability turns up in Europe, and [could”> threaten us, we are forced to take steps. Naturally, we will have to have new targets in Europe.”
* Bush’s reply: “Russia is not our enemy.”