Putin Invites Bush to Confer in Move to Avoid Public Clash

Putin Invites Bush to Confer in Move to Avoid Public Clash

President Bush announced Wednesday that he had accepted an invitation by President Vladimir V. Putin to visit Russia next week, signaling an effort to avoid a public clash over NATO and missile defenses when Mr. Bush travels to Europe next week...

President Bush announced Wednesday that he had accepted an invitation by President Vladimir V. Putin to visit Russia next week, signaling an effort to avoid a public clash over NATO and missile defenses when Mr. Bush travels to Europe next week.

The meeting — expected to take place on April 5 and 6 in Sochi, a resort city on the Black Sea — is likely to be the last between them before Mr. Putin steps aside as president and is replaced by his protégé, Dmitri A. Medvedev.

Mr. Medvedev is also likely to attend the meetings for what would be his first substantive discussions with Mr. Bush.

Mr. Bush’s secretaries of state and defense, Condoleezza Rice and Robert M. Gates, went to Moscow this month after the president had sent a letter offering to formalize negotiations on a series of disputed issues.

Those included the administration’s plans to base parts of a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, which Russia opposes, as well as stalled efforts to resume negotiations on reductions and verification measures for the two countries’ strategic nuclear arsenals.

“I’m optimistic we can reach accord on very important matters,” Mr. Bush said in a meeting with foreign reporters, according to a transcript released by the White House. “I think a lot of people in Europe would have a deep sigh of relief if we’re able to reach an accord on missile defense. And hopefully we can.”

Despite increasingly anti-American remarks, Mr. Putin’s government has appeared open to Mr. Bush’s proposals. The exact details of those have not been made public, but officials have said that they are intended to win Russia’s acquiescence to missile defenses in Eastern Europe by promising transparency.

A delegation of senior Russian officials held still more talks here Wednesday in an effort to fashion agreements before Mr. Bush’s trip, which begins Monday.

The focus of Mr. Bush’s trip is a meeting of NATO’s leaders in Bucharest, Romania. Among the items on the agenda are the question of membership for three more countries — Albania, Croatia and Macedonia — and a more tentative “road map” toward membership for Ukraine and Georgia, both former republics of the Soviet Union.

Russia has expressed hostility to any movement by Ukraine and Georgia toward joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. While Mr. Bush has expressed support for both countries’ membership, other allies appear wary of offending the Russians. As a result, officials and diplomats have said, the NATO allies are expected to sidestep the issue.

 

By Steven Lee Myers, The New York Times

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