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Bush, Putin Meet to Discuss Iran, North Korea


U.S. President Bush and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin met briefly in Moscow to discuss nuclear disputes with Iran and North Korea and the Middle East before a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders. The two presidents also said they are ready for Russia to join the World Trade Organization.

In an unusual move not required by protocol, President Putin and his wife met their U.S. counterparts while Air Force One stopped briefly in Moscow for refueling en route to Asia.

The meeting at Vnukovo airport was billed as an informal chat between friends over a lunch of Russian herring and caviar. In a Kremlin statement following the nearly two-hour meeting, the leaders were said to be in agreement on one of the most highly charged issues between Washington and Moscow in recent months - Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization.

Kremlin officials say the two leaders confirmed their readiness to sign the deal on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Hanoi beginning this Saturday.

A written Kremlin statement says the two presidents also discussed Iran's controversial nuclear program, the situation in the Middle East, and nuclear non-proliferation. Russian officials described the talks as cordial, but gave no further details.

U.S. officials are stymied by Russia's hard-line stance against international efforts to impose sanctions on Tehran in a bid to get it to halt its controversial nuclear program. As one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, Russia's backing on Iran is key.

Russia's ongoing diplomatic dispute with the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, and perceptions that Moscow is using its oil wealth as a political weapon have also clouded bilateral relations between Washington and Moscow.

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