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Bush fails to win over Putin on missile shield

President Bush and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin failed in talks Sunday to reconcile differences on a planned U.S. missile defense system.
/ Source: The Associated Press

President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin failed in talks Sunday to reconcile differences on a planned U.S. missile defense system but agreed a "strategic framework" guiding future U.S.-Russia relations.

In prepared opening remarks at a joint news conference at the Russian leader's Black Sea vacation home, Putin said: "The American side has heard our concerns."

Putin described his sometimes contentious eight-year relationship with Bush as "mostly positive."

But he added: "Sometimes, it was difficult to build the dialogue. Our countries still have serious disagreements on the existing problems. The search for common denominators was not easy."

The strategic framework addressed U.S. missile defense plans, noting that "the Russian side made clear" that it doesn't agree with the U.S. decision to establish sites in Poland and the Czech Republic to build a shield that is meant to protect Europe.

'Cold War over'
But Moscow said that it appreciates that the U.S. has heard Russia's concerns and the two sides agreed to intensify dialogue on missile defense cooperation issues.

President Bush said the missile shield is "not aimed at Russia" adding that people must accept that the Cold War is over.

Russia fears the system, to be based in former Warsaw Pact nations Poland and the Czech Republic, is aimed at its nuclear deterrent. U.S. officials deny this and insist it is intended only to defend NATO allies from missiles launched by rogue Mideast nations, like Iran.

Bush also said Sunday that he has told outgoing Putin that he hopes to continue to build relations generally between Washington and Moscow. He also said he told Putin the United States wants to continue to work with Putin's successor, Dmitry Medvedev.

The new "strategic framework" is aimed at guiding future U.S.-Russia relations in four broad areas: security, curbing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, counterterrorism and economic matters.

Earlier, Putin and Bush exchanged compliments.

"You're not afraid to tell me what's on your mind," Bush told the Russian leader, saying he had come to respect Putin's frankness.

Putin said they would conduct their talks, their last as leaders of their respective countries, "in a common working manner."

"I've come to respect you. You've been a strong leader," Bush said. "When all is said and done, we'll shake hands."

The two leaders had a lot of unfinished business on their wrap-up agenda with time running out on an often testy seven-year relationship.

The Russian president said they had started discussing security issues and bilateral matters over dinner on Saturday and would continue their talks "in a common working manner." Putin put in another plug for the Winter Olympic games that Sochi will host in 2014.

Their introductory remarks were mostly light-hearted. Bush joked about being asked to join in a traditional folk dance during the dinner entertainment the previous evening. "I'm only happy that my press corps didn't see me try to dance the dance I was asked to do," he quipped.

"We have been able to see you're a brilliant dancer," Putin replied good-naturedly.

The two men hope the meeting will chart a course for better ties between Washington and Moscow after they leave office: Putin next month and Bush in January.

Bush was also to have his first in-depth talks with Medvedev, who takes charge in Moscow on May 7. Bush has met him before but not for substantive talks. Putin will serve as Medvedev's prime minister.

Behind what both sides have said is a warm personal friendship, the list of contentious U.S.-Russia issues is a long one, even leaving out the missile shield dispute.

Russia's vehement opposition to NATO's eastward expansion into its backyard, divergent policies in the volatile Balkans, and U.S. complaints of increasing Kremlin authoritarianism and democratic backsliding will all feature on the agenda, officials say.