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Bush-Putin summit to address differences

world Updated: Jun 29, 2007 17:50 IST

Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and George W Bush of the United States will meet this weekend to try to relieve tensions between their countries before they both leave office in 2008.

Bush will receive the Russian leader at his family's estate in Kennebunkport, Maine, on July 1 and 2, Kremlin aide Sergei Prikhodko told reporters at a preview briefing Friday.

"Given that the presidents are in for a detailed conversation on a whole range of topical issues and an international agenda, the American side's choice of the venue seems ideal: the leaders' informal talks in an unofficial setting will create the right conditions for (a high level of) efficiency we are hoping for," Prikhodko said.

While at Kennebunkport, Putin and Bush will try to overcome differences that have sent the US-Russian relationship to its lowest point since the break-up of the Soviet Union. The meeting may be the two leaders' last opportunity to reverse the decline before their presidential terms expire next year.

The presidents are also expected to emphasise the positive legacy of their seven years at the helm, especially since 2007 marks the bicentenary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between their nations.

"The two leaders are to talk about the foundation of Russian-American relations with an eye to the future, about ways to consolidate the assets accumulated by the George W Bush administration in the past seven years and to ensure a long-time continuity," Prikhodko added.

Putin and Bush will use the summit to follow up on their discussions of a controversial US missile defence plan in Europe. During his latest meeting with Bush on the sidelines of a Group of Eight summit in Germany, Putin suggested Washington deploy its European missile shield on a Russia-rented base in Azerbaijan rather than in Central Europe.

The US leader described the proposal as interesting and promised to consider it at length, but Defence Secretary Robert Gates later said the US was unlikely to use the Azerbaijani base as a substitute for its prospective missile shield.

Nuclear arms control and cooperation in the nuclear industry will also be high on the summit agenda.

Specifically, the presidents will discuss a possible replacement for the Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (START), expiring in December 2009.

"We expect the presidents to take up the topic, bearing in mind that during the G8 summit in St. Petersburg last year, they instructed experts to review the treaty and determine which of its provisions should be taken into a future agreement," Prikhodko said.

Less controversial issues, such as collaboration on civilian nuclear programmes, are also likely to come under discussion, the Kremlin aide said.

Cooperation in that area should be based on Russia's initiative to set up an international uranium enrichment centre in Siberia and on the US proposal to use civilian nuclear power as part of a Global Energy Partnership programme, Prikhodko said.

In the leadup to the summit, US authorities are tightening security in the Kennebunkport area. Airspace over Bush's estate has been shut for flights within a radius of 16 kilometres since late Thursday, and the ban will remain in effect till midday July 2.