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Missle Defense to Top Bush, Putin Meeting Agenda

U.S. President George W. Bush will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin April 6 at the Russian leader's Black Sea vacation home in Sochi. As VOA's Ivana Kuhar reports, cooperation on antiballistic missile defense is expected to top the summit agenda. Jim Bertel narrates.

When President Bush meets with Russian President Putin on Sunday the two leaders are expected to discuss a number of thorny issues, chief among them the Bush administration's plan to build a missile shield in Europe.

Last month Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates held talks with senior Russian officials in Moscow. They also delivered a letter from Mr. Bush to the Russian president, which Mr. Putin later described as "a serious document aimed at resolving disputes between two countries."

Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton tells VOA a missile defense system against rogue states with nuclear capabilities has been one of the top priorities of Mr. Bush's presidency.

"Back in 2001, President Bush offered full cooperation with Russia so we could jointly develop additional missile defense capabilities,” Bolton said. “It was a sincere offer at the time, I am sorry the Russians did not take it up."

Bolton says President Bush is anxious to secure the future of the missile defense program before stepping down next January.

Russia is strongly opposed to U.S. plans to put interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic. Moscow says the plan threatens Russia's security, while Washington insists the defense shield is intended to protect Europe from a potential threat from Iran.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters last month the U.S. had agreed to allow Moscow to monitor the missile defense system.

Before leaving Washington, Mr. Bush said he is optimistic a deal on an antiballistic missile shield can be reached.

Angela Stent of Georgetown University in Washington believes a deal is possible if it includes U.S. incentives.

"It's possible that there could be some agreement," she says. "But I still think that for the Russian side to come into agreement with the United States, which includes the deployment in the Czech Republic and Poland, that would already - from their point of view - they would be agreeing to something that they have before said was nonnegotiable. But I think it will also depend [on] what the U.S. offers them."

Stent, a former National Intelligence Officer at the National Intelligence Council, says it is unlikely the U.S. would give up planned missile defense sites in the Czech Republic and Poland as part of some new deal with Moscow.

"I think there is a desire on the United States' part to cooperate with Russia on this issue, I think its not just propaganda,” Stent said. “But I think it is also true that there is unwillingness on a part of the Bush administration to forgo the deployments in the Czech Republic and Poland."

Sunday's meeting is likely to be the last between the two presidents. Mr. Putin steps down from the Russian presidency on May 7.