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Russian Official Discusses U.S.-Russian Relations

President Bush is scheduled to hold a critical meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a few weeks to discuss a nuclear shield in Europe. A spokesman for Putin outlines key differences between the two countries.

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    Two weeks from now, Russian President Vladimir Putin will travel to the famed Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, as the guest of President Bush and his father, the former president. For two days, the leaders will talk about issues that have generated the greatest tensions in the U.S.-Russian relationship since the end of the Cold War.

    GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: Vladimir and I just had a very constructive dialogue.


    As differences over policies, from missile defense to the state of Russian democracy, have deepened this year, the rhetoric between them has grown unusually harsh. At a security conference in Munich in February, Putin criticized the U.S. for what he called an "almost uncontained hyper use of force" around the world, adding, "The United States has overstepped its national borders in every way."

    And at a World War II commemoration in May, Putin appeared to make a veiled comparison between the foreign policies of the Bush administration and those of Nazi Germany. Later that month, in Potsdam, Germany, Secretary of State Rice had some criticism of her own to make, saying, "We want a 21st-century partnership with Russia, but at times Russia seems to think and act in the zero-sum terms of another era."

    Russia also reacted heatedly when Bush officials, including Vice President Cheney, began talking this spring about deploying elements of a missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland to protect against rogue states with nuclear ambitions, like Iran or North Korea.

    On the eve of last week's G-8 meeting of industrial nations, Russia tested some new missiles. And Putin said, if the Czech-Polish deployment went forward, he would retarget Russian missiles at Europe.

    VLADIMIR PUTIN, President of Russia (through translator): A new deployment area in Poland, a radar in the Czech Republic, what shall we do? We cannot watch this unilaterally any further.


    Stopping in Prague on his way to the summit in Germany, President Bush sought to allay Putin's concerns.


    Russia is not our enemy. It's a purely defensive measure, aimed not at Russia, but at true threats.


    But in a speech later that day, President Bush aimed this criticism at President Putin's moves against the media and political opponents in Russia.


    In Russia, reforms that were once promised to empower citizens have been derailed, with troubling implications for democratic development.


    When the two men finally met at the G-8 late last week, Putin made a surprise offer for a joint U.S.-Russia missile defense system in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan. President Bush called the Putin idea "interesting," but did not back off the Czech-Polish plan.

    Yesterday, in Washington, I talked with President Putin's spokesman about the U.S.-Russia tensions and the upcoming meeting.

    Dmitry Peskov, welcome.