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Bush, Putin Talk Middle East Peace


U.S. President George W. Bush drives as he and President Vladimir Putin have a ride in a Soviet-era car just outside Moscow

The presidents discussed the need to fully support Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority as they prepare for the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the men consulted on the need to train and equip Palestinian security forces and their shared commitment to combat terrorism. "They talked about the need that one cannot flirt with terrorism or terrorists. I think that was really the essential issue here because they are very concerned about the Palestinian situation and other situations where terrorism could undermine peace," she said.

Secretary Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meet with United Nations and European Union officials in Moscow Monday to discuss that quartets so-called road map to Middle East peace.

The plan is meant to establish the conditions for a separate Palestinian state but has made little progress as both Israeli and Palestinian leaders say the other side needs to do more.

Foreign Minister Lavrov told reporters that he expects a lot from the quartet meeting as the United States and Russia have very close positions on the Middle East.

President Putin recently visited the region and President Bush thanked him for his work on the Middle East and Iran.

Russia has agreed to sell nuclear material to Iran, which Tehran says will be used to generate electricity. The Bush Administration says there is no need for an oil-rich nation such as Iran to have a civilian nuclear power program, and maintains the country is secretly building nuclear weapons.

In a concession to the Americans, Russia will under the terms of the agreement reclaim spent uranium for reprocessing in Russia.

On North Korea, both countries are pressing Pyongyang to return to six-party talks aimed at convincing the country to give up its nuclear weapons program. Foreign Minister Lavrov says President Bush and President Putin discussed the need to prevent the nuclear non-proliferation treaty from being jeopardized.

Secretary Rice said the presidents also talked about the state of democracy in Russia and President Putin's recent comment that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geo-political catastrophe of the 20th century.

Russian democracy has been something of a sore point between the two leaders lately, but they were all smiles for the cameras outside President Putin's dacha as Mr. Bush drove his hosts prized 1956 white Volga sedan around the grounds, saying he was having such a good time he would take another lap.

The two men joined their wives for a social dinner before Mondays ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe.

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