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Bush in Slovakia for Summit with Putin

President Bush is in Slovakia for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The final stop on Mr. Bush's European tour.

President Bush faces a delicate task in Bratislava, building a relationship with the Russian leader while prodding him to respect individual freedoms.

There are concerns that the Russian government may be backsliding on its commitments to human rights. President Bush, speaking to reporters on Tuesday in Brussels, said he is looking forward to a private discussion with the Russian leader.

“I've got a very good personal relationship with President Putin, and that's important,” said Mr. Bush. “And it's important because it enables me and our country to remind President Putin that democracies are based upon rule of law and the respect for human rights and human dignity and a free press.”

The situation in Russia was discussed during the President's talks with European leaders in Brussels, the home base of both NATO and the EU. Mr. Bush said Baltic nations were among those raising doubts about Moscow's intentions.

“I look forward to carrying their message that it's very important for President Putin to make very clear why he has made some of the decisions he's made, and as well as respect his neighbors," he added.

Mr. Bush predicted the talks will be cordial, emphasizing it is important for the United States to keep a constructive relationship with Russia.

"We've got a lot to do together,” he explained. “We've got a lot of common projects that will make people more secure around the world, one of which is to make sure that nuclear stockpiles are safeguarded."

On the eve of the Bratislava summit, White House National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley said the world will be watching to see if Vladimir Putin lives up to his commitment to democracy. But he went on to stress that Russian democracy remains a work in progress. He said that, hopefully, Moscow will understand that in the 21st century, a strong Russia must be a democratic Russia.