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Bush, Other G8 Leaders, Prepare to Open Summit in Russia


President Bush is in Russia for the start of the annual meeting of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations.

The president and Mrs. Bush joined other guests at a social dinner hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his wife Ludmilla at the Peterhof Palace, the opulent summer home of Peter the Great.

It ended a busy day of diplomacy for Mr. Bush, who met privately with President Putin and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi. On the agenda: escalating violence in the Middle East and a push for sanctions against Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programs.

Those issues are sure to dominate the president's meetings Sunday with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac ahead of the formal start of the G8 summit.

This is the first time Russia is hosting the annual meeting of leading industrialized nations, and President Putin had hoped to focus on energy security, fighting infectious disease and education.

But Israeli attacks in Lebanon in response to the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers are likely to disrupt that agenda and change the nature of the summit's final communiqué.

Following their meeting Saturday, President Bush repeated his support for Israel's right to defend itself. President Putin questioned whether Israeli bombing of Beirut's airport and the road to Syria was a proportional response to the kidnappings and rocket attacks in northern Israel.

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