US President George W Bush reached out to Russia on Friday to soothe concerns over a planned US missile defense program that has cranked tension between the allies and fears of a Cold War-style arms race.
"The Cold War is over. We're now into the 21st century, where we need to deal with the true threats, which are threats of radical extremists ... and the threats of proliferation," Bush said in an interview with several European newspapers.
He was speaking ahead of the G8 summit of leading industrialised nations in Germany from June 6 to 8, where he is due to meet with his ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The United States has angered Russia with plans to expand its missile defense shield into central Europe. Russia sees the planned installations as a security threat.
The rhetoric in the dispute escalated on Tuesday when Russia announced it had successfully tested a new ballistic rocket. Putin has also accused the United States of igniting "a new arms race" and said deploying the missile shield would be "transform Europe into a powder keg."
"My friend, Vladimir Putin, is making this to be a case where somehow this is going to jeopardize relations in Europe and it's going to make the world a more dangerous place -- quite the opposite," Bush said in the interview.
The United States says the system, involving a planned radar base in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor missiles in Poland, would defend Europe against threats from Iran and North Korea, while posing no threat to Russia.
But Putin is furious at the plans.
"He is concerned about the missile defense system. He thinks it's aimed at him. It's not. It's aimed at rogue regimes that would use a missile to achieve political objective or to create unrest," Bush said.
The United States has previously named Iran and North Korea as possible threats to be tackled by the shield system. It suspects Tehran of seeking to make nuclear bombs, but Iran says its nuclear program is only for atomic power.
Bush stressed that he and Putin agree on the Iranian nuclear issue and on opposition to North Korean nuclear proliferation.
"The reason one advocates and works for a missile defense system is to protect free peoples from the launch of a missile from a hostile regime," he said. "Russia is not hostile. Russia is a friend."
"There's a lot of work we can do together to deal with these threats. And that's what I'll continue talking to President Putin about," at the G8 summit and also when the Russian leader visits the United States in July, Bush said.
He also said he would raise concerns over democracy in Russia.
"Vladimir Putin will tell me that Russia is a democracy and that he's advancing democracy. We have got some questions about that, of course."
He also cited a diplomatic dispute between Russia and its ex-Soviet neighbor Estonia, a US ally, and the "difficult issue" of Kosovo, whose independence from Serbia is supported by key UN powers but opposed by Russia.
"Disagreement on issues doesn't mean that the relations aren't cordial," Bush insisted.
"My relationship with Russia is firm. I tell people what I believe based upon certain principles. But it's going to be in such a way that treats people with respect."