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Bush and Putin Meet, No Agreement Expected On Missile Defense


U.S. President George W. Bush is in Russia for his last summit with President Vladimir Putin before the Russian presidency passes to a new leader next month. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports White House officials say there will be some general statement on future relations between the two countries, but no deal on missile defense.

The White House says there is more work to be done before the two sides can reach agreement on U.S. plans to put a missile defense system in central Europe.

Spokeswoman Dana Perino says discussions on the matter between top U.S. and Russian diplomats are still in the early stages. She says the dialogue is moving in the right direction, and this summit should result in further progress.

Perino spoke to reporters aboard Air Force One as the president's plane made its way from Croatia to the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi. She said that while a deal on missile defense is still a ways off, the two leaders are planning to produce what she called a strategic framework. She described it as a list of ideas for their successors on the future of relations between their two countries. She said the goal is a smooth transition that will enable cooperation to continue in key areas.

Missile defense is just one of the issues that needs to be resolved, with the Russians arguing the plan will set off a new arms race. Russia is also vehemently opposed to the eastward expansion of NATO to Ukraine and Georgia.

But these differences seemed to be pushed aside as the two leaders and their wives met for a social evening in Sochi - the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Before sitting down to dinner at the Russian president's official retreat, they got a briefing on plans for the games.

There was no mention - at least in public - of the just ended NATO summit. But earlier in the day, Mr. Bush reaffirmed his views on expanding the alliance in a speech in the Croatian capital, Zagreb. He said the alliance is open to all countries in the region. "With the changes underway in this region, Europe stands on the threshold of a new and hopeful history. The ancient and costly rivalries that led to two world wars have fallen away. We've seen the burning desire for freedom melt even the Iron Curtain," he said.

Mr. Bush spoke in a square that has been the center of political life in Croatia for hundreds of years - in good times and bad. "The great church in this square has stood since the Middle Ages. Over the centuries it has seen long dark winters of occupation and tyranny and war. But the spring is here at last," he said.

Croatia was one of three Balkan countries deemed by NATO leaders to meet the criteria for membership. Two - Croatia and Albania - are beginning the admission process immediately. The third - Macedonia - must wait until it settles a name dispute with its neighbor, Greece.

Leaders of all three countries were on hand in Zagreb for the celebration. As they looked on, President Bush made a vow. "Henceforth, should any danger threaten your people, America and the NATO alliance will stand with you. And no one will be able to take your freedom away," he said.

He noted that Croatia, Albania and Macedonia have all deployed troops to Afghanistan, and Macedonian and Albanian forces have served in Iraq. He said as countries that have experienced life under repression, they are serving as an example to others.