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No Big Announcements Expected As Putin Begins Visit At Bush's Texas Ranch - 2001-11-15

President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin are meeting at the Bush ranch in the small town of Crawford, Texas. White House aides say the aim of the informal visit is to build a strong personal relationship between the leaders of Russia and the United States.

The helicopter carrying President Putin and his wife arrived at Prairie Chapel Ranch under gloomy skies.

A steady rain was falling as President Bush drove up in a white pick-up truck. He looked at the droplets on the windshield and declared them to be a good omen in usually parched central Texas. "There is no better gift than rain!," he said.

Mr. Bush held an umbrella over Lyudmilla Putin. The Russian leader did the same for Laura Bush.

It was a little act of camaraderie between two couples at the start of a visit that will be a mix of distinctive Texas hospitality and high-power summitry.

White House aides say President Bush sees the 22-hour visit as a chance to build stronger personal ties with Vladimir Putin, ties that could lead to a stronger relationship between their two countries.

Spokesman Ari Fleischer says do not expect any dramatic announcements to emerge from Crawford. He says the two Presidents will continue the discussions begun Tuesday at the White House. But those talks will take place in a far more informal setting, with breaks for a Texas-style dinner of smoked beef and fried catfish, and music from a country and western band.

Here in Crawford, the pomp and ceremony of the White House is giving way to jeans and boots, pickup trucks and quiet times. Mr. Fleischer calls President Putin's visit to the Bush ranch just one stop on a long road.

The two men talked about a new era in relations during a news conference Tuesday in Washington. Mr. Bush announced plans to slash America's arsenal of long-range nuclear weapons by two-thirds. A few hours later, President Putin matched the cuts, though he made clear there are still big differences over the fate of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

The Russian leader made one stop on his way from the White House to the Bush ranch. He delivered a speech at Rice University in Houston, Texas, in which he talked about cooperation with NATO on combating the terrorist threat as well as weapons of mass destruction.

It is a notion that might have been unthinkable until recently. NATO once stood on the other side of the Iron Curtain from the Soviet Union and its allies. Now, several former Warsaw Pact nations are NATO members. And the Russian president is offering to work with NATO, to the extent the alliance is willing to work with Moscow.