Monday, July 02, 2007

When you've been outmaneuvered on every policy issue possible, just try some good ole fashioned ass kissin'

Bush, Putin Far Apart on Policy


Plates piled with pancakes and omelets and an Atlantic Ocean fishing trip served as the warmup Monday for talks between President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The issues menu was daunting: differences over the fate of Kosovo, democracy in Russia and U.S. missile defense plans. These, among other vexing questions, have clouded a once-warm relationship.

After a hearty Maine breakfast, the leaders and security agents piled into the powerful speedboat navigated by Bush's father - former President George H.W. Bush. Under a bright morning sunshine, Putin and the Bushes roamed close to the shoreline around the Bush family's oceanfront estate for about an hour and a half.

Putin landed a fish, while his host did not, and then the two presidents sat down for their informal talks inside Walker Point's stone-and-shingle main house overlooking the rocky and jagged Atlantic coastline. What remained to be seen was whether the Russian leader was as adept at smoothing relations with Bush as he was at outsmarting the fish.

Bush and Putin have contrasting views on democracy and missile defense, NATO expansion into Russia's backyard and independence for Kosovo. They both want to stymie Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions, but don't see eye-to-eye on how tough to get with Tehran or even whether Iranian missiles currently pose a threat.

When Putin arrived Sunday afternoon, it was all handshakes, kisses and smiles. Putin gave a kiss on the cheek to first lady Laura Bush and the president's mother, Barbara Bush, and handed them bouquets of flowers.

They took their first spin in the former president's prized boat, Fidelity III, for about 45 minutes, starting nearly immediately after he got there. Bush and Putin were seen grinning and waving to photographers as they zoomed along the coastline. The evening ended with a dinner of lobster and marinated swordfish.

While both sides downplayed expectations for the meetings, the two leaders were expected to call their missile defense experts to a joint meeting so they can learn about the installations the United States is proposing and the capabilities of the Azerbaijan system.

They might also come to a closer understanding about getting a third, tougher round of U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran because of its refusal to stop enriching uranium. The U.S., Russia and their fellow permanent U.N. Security Council members, however, have told Iran they will hold off on new sanctions if it stops expanding its enrichment activities while they seek to restart talks about the program with Tehran. Diplomats say the Iranian government has not yet responded to the proposal.

On Kosovo, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday that he hoped Bush's meeting with Putin would resolve differences over the future of Serbia's breakaway Kosovo province, but a Putin adviser offered little hope for that.

Over Sunday night's meal, there was "family style dialogue" about coming elections in both countries. Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied any tense discussions.

"Definitely not," Peskov said. "We could not have predicted the warmness and hospitality from President Bush. The Russian president was very much satisfied with that."

But for all the pleasantries and talk about patching up the Bush-Putin friendship and forging fresh relations with Russia as it transitions from its communist past, the rhetoric coming out of the Kremlin of late seems mired in the Cold War.

This tiny seacoast town has welcomed the Russian delegation, but an estimated 1,700 demonstrators interrupted a peaceful Sunday afternoon. They called for the impeachment of Bush and an end to the war in Iraq.

Bush, who feels Putin has tried to muzzle free speech, would have approved of a chant led by one demonstrator.

"Tell me what democracy sounds like," she yelled to her followers.

"This is what democracy sounds like," they screamed.

Original article posted here.

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