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Bush, Putin to Discuss NATO Expansion, Iraq During St. Petersburg Summit - 2002-11-22


President George Bush has arrived in St. Petersburg for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on NATO expansion. The two leaders are also expected to discuss other topics, including Iraq and the fighting in Chechnya.

The last time Presidents Putin and Bush met in Russia's second city, they agreed to historic cuts in their country's arsenals of strategic long-range nuclear weapons. No one is expecting anything quite as dramatic during Friday's talks, which come one day after NATO formally invited seven former Communist countries to join the alliance.

President Bush says he is coming to St. Petersburg to stress to President Putin and his people that Russia has nothing to fear from an expanded NATO.

President Putin has said the alliance's expansion will not harm Russia's security interests. All the same, he has said Russia's military will keep a vigilant eye on developments.

In addition to NATO enlargement, the issue of Iraq is also expected to come up at Friday's talks. Russia is concerned about its trade ties with Iraq in the event of a military campaign against Saddam Hussein's regime. In comments Friday, Mr. Bush sought to allay Russia's concerns, saying "its interests in Iraq would be honored."

A Kremlin presidential deputy says the two leaders are also likely to sign an agreement for future cooperation on energy issues.

While President Putin has been relatively relaxed about NATO enlargement, he is likely to be less accommodating on the subject of Chechnya, the breakaway Russian republic.

Though President Bush has welcomed Russia's backing in war against terrorism, he is expected to urge the Russian president during Friday's talks to strive for a better balance between bringing terrorists to justice and resolving the Chechen conflict by peaceful means.

Mr. Bush has, however, defended Mr. Putin's handling of last month's hostage-taking by Chechen gunmen at a Moscow theater.

In his comments on Chechnya, Mr. Putin remains steadfast in his view that Russia will not negotiate with what he calls Chechen "terrorists." He also has said he considers Chechnya a "domestic concern."

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