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President Bush Ends Trip with Meeting With Russian President Vladimir Putin

President Bush ended his four-day European trip Thursday with a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Slovakia. At a news conference, President Bush expressed his concerns about Russia's commitment to the "universal principles of democracy."

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    Thousands of Slovaks braved the cold in their capital, Bratislava, this morning, to hear President Bush applaud the way democracy had transformed their country.


    Eventually, the call of liberty comes to every mind and every soul. And one day, freedom's promise will reach every people and every nation.


    He mingled with the enthusiastic crowd, then moved on to a medieval castle for a much tougher assignment: Meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on such contentious issues as nuclear proliferation and what the U.S. sees as a rollback of democracy in Russia.

    While their leaders met privately, their advisers announced several new agreements, including a new joint effort to secure nuclear material and keep it out of the hands of terrorists. In addition, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov signed a deal to restrict terrorists' access to shoulder-fired missiles. After nearly three hours, the two presidents met with reporters.


    We have had over the past four years very constructive relations, and that's the way I'm going to keep it for the next four years as well. We've had an open and candid exchange of views and positions. You're a leader of a great nation, and I'm fortunate enough to be one, too.

    Vladimir's been a — ever since Sept. 11, he has clearly understood the stakes that we face. And every time we meet, he is — we have an interesting and constructive strategy session about how to continue to protect our peoples from attack.

    He has confronted some serious attacks in his country. I know what that means, as a fellow leader. I know the strain. I know the agony. I know the sadness. We agreed that Iran should not have a nuclear weapon, and I appreciate Vladimir's understanding on that issue. We understand that in the 21st century, strong countries are built by developing strong democracies.

    And so we talked about democracy. Democracies always reflect a country's customs and culture, and I know that. Yet democracies have certain things in common; they have a rule of law, and protection of minorities, a free press, and a viable political opposition. I was able to share my concerns about Russia's commitment in fulfilling these universal principles. I did so in a constructive and friendly way.


    We talked a lot about nonproliferation. We talked a lot about the situation in Iran, North Korea, and we share a common opinion in this regard and we are taking a similar approach: We should put an end to the proliferation of missile and missile technology. The proliferation of such weapons is not in the interest of specific countries or the international community in general.


    A reporter reminded President Bush of his statement four years ago that he'd looked into Putin's soul and found him trustworthy.


    I'm wondering if you could unequivocally and without reservation repeat that statement today.


    One thing I — gave me comfort in making the statement I made in Slovenia was that Vladimir said, "When I agree with you, I will agree with — I'll tell you, and when I disagree with you, I'll tell you."

    This is the kind of fellow who when he says yes he means yes, and when he says no he means no. And we had a discussion about some decisions he's made. He's had some interest in decisions I've made. And that's a very important dialogue.


    Russia has made its choice in favor of democracy 14 years ago, independently, without any pressure from outside. It made that decision in the interest of itself, in the interest of its people, of its citizens. This is our final choice and we have no way back.


    Presidents Bush and Putin will meet again in May in Moscow.

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