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Bush, Putin in Frank Talks on Russian Democracy

The fate of Russian democracy dominated talks in Slovakia between President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Bush raised concerns about recent actions taken by the Russian government.

President Bush calls the talks constructive and candid. He says he brought up the importance of respect for the rule of law and individual freedoms.

"I was able to share my concerns about Russia's commitment in fulfilling these universal principles. I did so in a constructive and friendly way," Mr. Bush said.

At a joint news conference, both men spoke of the importance of strengthening U.S.-Russian relations, while speaking candidly and directly to each other about their differences. President Putin said they discussed Mr. Bush's concerns at length, face-to-face, and without any aides present. He said Russia is committed to democracy and will not turn back.

"Russia has made its choice in favor of democracy, 14 years ago, independently, without any pressure from outside. It made that decision in the interest of itself and of its people. This is our final choice," Mr. Putin said.

President Bush welcomed Mr. Putin's pledge.

"I can tell you what it is like dealing with the man over the last four years. When he tells you something, he means it," Mr. Bush said.

The meeting presented a bit of a dilemma for Mr. Bush, who had to balance criticism of the Russian government with the need to work with Moscow on crucial matters, such as weapons proliferation and the war on terrorism.

Just prior to their talks, the two countries signed an agreement designed to curb the spread of shoulder-fired missiles, the kind of portable systems that could be used by terrorists to shoot down a plane. They also decided to take steps to increase security at U.S. and Russian nuclear facilities.

President Bush talked about a meeting of the minds on numerous matters, including the need to check Iran and North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

"The common ground is a lot more than those areas where we disagree. And by working together, this world will be a safer, freer and more prosperous place," Mr. Bush said.

The two men met for more than two hours at a castle overlooking the Danube River. It was the final event of Mr. Bush's five-day European tour.