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President Bush to Host Putin, Try to Cool Rhetoric

President Bush faces tough negotiations on Sunday, when he's due to meet Vladimir Putin at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Among the topics of discussion will be the impasse between the United States and Russia on locations for a U.S. missile defense system, and the countries' disagreement over independence for Kosovo.

The Kremlin has dismissed Washington's explanation that a proposed missile defense system, with some locations in Europe, is meant to stop attacks from rogue states such as Iran and North Korea — saying the shield would really be aimed against Russia. Putin has threatened to aim Russian missiles at Europe in response.

Putin's offer to use a Russian radar installation in Azerbaijan instead of the planned sites in Eastern Europe will be at the top of the agenda this weekend.

NATO chief de Hoop Scheffer said the Soviet-era radar isn't capable of serving as an alternative to the existing missile defense plans. But last week, Russian military chief of staff Yuri Baluyevsky said Washington has no reason to turn down the offer.

"If we don't get a positive response to our proposal, then everything will be clear about against whom the system will be directed," Baluyevsky said. "And not only we, but the whole world will know. It's a litmus test."

Some analysts say Moscow's offer is meant to throw a wrench in Washington's plans. But Sergei Rogov, of Moscow's USA and Canada Institute, said Moscow is serious about its proposal.

"We are ready to bargain," Rogov said. "But we want the bargaining process to be a two-way street, and not just, well, the United States telling Russia how to behave — and (that) if we don't follow this advice we will be punished."

Among other issues seriously straining U.S.-Russia relations is independence for Kosovo, which Moscow opposes.

Putin has been assailing the United States with increasingly bitter, Cold War-style rhetoric leading up to the summit.

Putin's rhetorical assault against the United States began in earnest last February, during a conference in Munich. In the presence of U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, he accused Washington of spreading tension and violence around the world. Earlier this month, Putin implicitly compared the United States to Nazi Germany. And in another broadside to Washington last week, he said the Soviet Union's worst crimes were no worse than events in any other country.

"At least we didn't use nuclear weapons against a civilian population," Putin said in an obvious reference to the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during World War II. "We didn't spray thousands of miles with chemicals or drop seven times more bombs than used in World War II on a small country, like in Vietnam."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Gregory Feifer
Gregory Feifer reports for NPR from Moscow, covering Russia's resurgence under President Vladimir Putin and the country's transition to the post-Putin era. He files from other former Soviet republics and across Russia, where he's observed the effects of the country's vast new oil wealth on an increasingly nationalistic society as well as Moscow's rekindling of a new Cold War-style opposition to the West.