NATO officials are gathering in Germay for their annual conference on security policy, which brings together high level defense officials from all the NATO member states, as well as representatives from other countries. One of the highlights of this year's conference will be an address by Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Ivana Kuhar reports from Munich.

More than 250 high-ranking participants from about 40 nations are gathering in Munich's Bayerischer Hof hotel to discuss security challenges around the world.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will address the conference, as will U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who will deliver his first major international speech since assuming the top defense post at the Pentagon.

Robert Hunter, a former U.S. Ambassador to NATO, says one of the most anticipated events at the conference will be a scheduled speech by the Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"I think the most important thing, if it does come off, will be the presence of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin," he said. "He is going to talk about Russia's engagement with the outside world, with NATO, the international community and he is going to talk about energy."

Hunter says it is important to engage Russia and China as positive forces in the creation of global stability.

"[One of the] big issues in the world right now - outside of the Middle East - is to draw Russia productively into the outside world and to draw China productively into the outside world, rather than either - or both - of these countries going their separate way," he said.

Along with drawing many top officials from around the world, the annual security conference often attracts protesters and this year is no different. Police say they are expecting about 3,500 demonstrators to converge on Munich to protest war in Iraq.