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American and Russian Leaders To Meet at White House

The relationship between U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin has changed significantly since their first meeting four years ago. The instant friendship the two developed has endured, but the great promise of early meetings has given way to a more pragmatic approach to the relationship.

Four years after their first summit, the presidents of Russia and the United States are seeing the optimistic glow that marked their first encounter mature into a more stable relationship where the two leaders can disagree on some issues and cooperate on others.

James Goldgeier, with the Council on Foreign Relations, talks about the importance of their relationship. "The relationship is a little more tense, but they still, each president needs to have a good relationship with the other. It's very important that the United States and Russia maintain good relations even while they work through some of their differences."

Those differences include Mr. Bush's push for democracy in central Asia and the authoritarian steps taken by Mr. Putin to consolidate his political power, points raised during their talks in Slovakia earlier this year.

President Bush said, “We had a discussion about some decisions he's made. He's had some interest in the decisions I've made. And that's a very important dialogue. And as I said, I'll say it again, I think it's very important that all nations understand the great values inherent in democracy - rule of law and protection of minorities, viable political debate."

Ariel Cohen, a foreign policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation who met with Mr. Putin last week, says with new, democratic governments on Russia's borders, Mr. Bush needs to send a clear message to the Russian president. "We need to signal to the Russians that our support of these regimes was support of democracy, of democratic process and not an anti-Russian step." 

Another area of friction is Iran's nuclear aspirations, which the U.S. believes includes the development of nuclear weapons.

Mr. Cohen speaks about the Russian and U.S. views of Iran. "The Russian position is contradicting U.S./European position, which is to go to Security Council. The Russians don't mind the civilian program because they want to have a part in the Iranian civilian program."

Sarah Mendelson, who studies Russia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says Russia wants to have an independent foreign policy.

"Certainly the Russian elite is looking to be received as a great power, they are going to hold the G-8 meeting in 2006 and I think they want to be seen as a major player still."

Mr. Cohen adds, “The preoccupation of the top tier of leadership is how they can maximize Russia's independence as a foreign policy actor and that's what they are focusing on right now.”

Friday's meeting is expected to last less than two hours. Analysts say it is a chance to begin a new relationship, one based on policy rather than personality.

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