Glossing over differences straining their political relationship, President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin greeted each other warmly on Friday in talks expected to emphasize co-operation in the war on terror and the campaign to stop North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
The two leaders apparently were still at odds over how to address Iran's nuclear programme. There also were long-running differences over the US-led invasion of Iraq and US concern that Russia is retreating from democracy. Exchanging pleasantries, they offered no public remarks on the issues they face.
"Hey Vladimir. How are you? Looking good," Bush said. "I always enjoy a chance to have a good discussion with you. You're right. We've got a very important relationship. We value your advice."
Bush asked Putin if he wanted to address reporters. Putin said he did not. Bush shrugged and said, "OK, me neither." The two leaders then retreated to seats out of earshot.
Far from home, Bush was on the defensive about Democrats' criticism that he had misled the nation about the need to go to war in Iraq. He also was confronted with an announcement that South Korea intends to bring home about a third of its 3,200 troops in Iraq next year. The announcement caught the White House by surprise, coming in the midst of Bush's trip here.
"They have not informed the United States government of that," National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones said.
At a news conference on Thursday, Bush took issue with his domestic critics and said it was "patriotic as heck to disagree with the president." But he added, "What bothers me is when people are irresponsibly using their positions and playing politics. That's exactly what is taking place in America."
Friday's meeting was the fifth between Bush and Putin this year, following talks in Moscow; Washington; Bratislava, Slovakia, and Gleneagles, Scotland. Despite their disputes, they're on a first-name basis and emphasize their friendship, which was strengthened when Putin stepped forward and supported Bush after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Bush and Putin were meeting in a hotel suite before the opening of the annual Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation forum. The White House said the key topics would be Iran, North Korea, terrorism, trade, Moscow's goal of joining the World Trade Organization by the end of the year and developments in Russia.
Bush met with Southeast Asia leaders to underscore US interest in the region, one of the battlegrounds in the fight against terrorists. Bush was interested in asking the leaders to exert their influence on the military junta in Myanmar, which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said was "one of the worst regimes in the world" for its record on human rights and free speech.
Putin has refused to support Bush in the president's eagerness to go to the UN Security Council with suspicions Iran is trying to build a nuclear arsenal. Over US objections, Russia is building a nuclear reactor for a power plant in Iran, an US$800 million project the United States fears could be used to help develop nuclear arms.
Putin says that he shares the US goal of an Iran without nuclear arms but that he has been assured Teheran has no ambitions for developing a nuclear weapon and instead wants its programme for civilian energy use alone.
Bush and Putin have generally agreed on a need to avert the spread of nuclear weapons technology to other nations, including North Korea. Russia is a partner with the United States, China, Japan and South Korea in talks aimed at persuading North Korea to halt its nuclear programme in return for energy and security guarantees.
The political relationship between Bush and Putin has frayed, in part because of US concerns that Putin is consolidating power in the Kremlin and eroding democratic advances in post-Soviet Russia.
While Russia backed the United States in the war in Afghanistan, Putin vehemently opposed the invasion of Iraq.
Putin has been outspoken about the struggle against terrorism, but US officials accuse Russia of turning a blind eye towards what they say is Iranian and Syrian support for terrorists.
Russian officials accuse the United States and European nations of maintaining double standards on terrorism and have repeatedly lashed out at them for granting asylum to Chechen rebel figures they consider terrorists.
(China Daily November 19, 2005)