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Bush, Putin Remain Divided on Missile Defense System


U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin have ended their farewell summit without agreement on missile defense, but with a blueprint for their successors. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports they conferred at Mr. Putin's presidential retreat in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

The two presidents ended their talks with a focus on the positive.

They say they will continue to work on the missile defense issue. And they speak with pride of the transformation in U.S.- Russian relations during the more than seven years they have worked together.

The two leaders are leaving behind a framework agreement for their successors spelling out their accomplishments and looking ahead to the future.

President Bush says it shows the breadth and depth of the relationship.

"We worked very hard over the past years to find areas where we can work together and find ways to be agreeable when we disagree," Mr. Bush said.

One area where there is strong disagreement is missile defense. The United States wants to build a system in central Europe. Russia says that could start a new arms race.

At their final news conference, they said even though they were unable to reach a breakthrough in Sochi, some sort of meeting of the minds is still possible.

Speaking through a translator, President Putin said he believes the United States understands his concerns about the plan to put a radar system in the Czech Republic and missile interceptors in Poland. He said Washington has offered some confidence-building measures that remain under consideration.

"I do have certain cautious optimism with regard to mutual agreements. I believe that this is possible. But the devil is in the details," Mr. Putin said.

President Bush says the two sides have pledged to find a solution, and notes that in the strategic framework signed at the Sochi summit both back the notion of an expanded missile defense network.

"The vision of having a global system is something I strongly support. We are working cooperatively together," Mr. Bush said.

The two were asked by a reporter if they had decided during their summit to just leave the matter for their successors to resolve. President Bush rejected the notion.

"Now you can cynically say it is kicking the can down the road," Mr. Bush said. "I don't appreciate that because this is an important part of my belief that it is necessary to protect ourselves."

But hanging over their discussions is the fact Mr. Putin steps down as president next month, and Mr. Bush leaves office in January.

On May 7, Dmitri Medvedev will be inaugurated as Russia's new president. While in Sochi, Mr. Bush held his first substantive talks with Vladimir Putin's successor, and declared himself impressed with the president-elect.

Mr. Putin is expected to serve as prime minister in the new Russian government but he told reporters President Medvedev will be in charge of foreign policy.

"Now as far as your humble servant, myself, if I become prime minister, the prime minister will have many other issues and problems on his agenda," Mr. Putin said.

Dmitri Medvedv will make his big international debut in July when he represents Russia at the annual summit of the world's leading industrialized nations.

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