Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed NATO expansion Saturday by dusting off a 47-year-old document in which the Soviet Union appealed for membership in the alliance -- and was flatly turned down.
When President Bush invited Putin to answer a reporter's question on the alliance's expansion, Putin appeared to ignore him. As Bush stared at him expectantly, Putin silently flipped through the papers as if reading them for the first time.
"I'm going to lay it out for you," Putin finally said, prompting a chuckle from Bush.
"This Soviet government announces its intention to enter into discussions with NATO countries about its participation in NATO with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization," Putin said, reading from the document.
The Soviets proposed in March 1954 that they join NATO on the condition the West abandon a planned European Defense Community. The Soviets argued that allowing them into NATO could end the Cold War by reuniting the anti-Hitler forces of World War II.
The United States, Britain and France immediately dismissed the proposal as a scheme meant to undermine NATO.
Putin read aloud what he said was NATO's rejection: "There is no need to stress the completely unrealistic nature of such a proposal from the Soviet Union."
The Russian president said he received a similar rebuff a year ago when he raised the possibility anew with then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. "Look, we're not talking about this right now," he quoted Albright as saying.
NATO admission apparently off the table, Putin said Saturday he appreciated Bush's overtures of partnership to Russia.
"When the president of a great power says he wants to see Russia as a partner and maybe even as an ally, this is worth so much to us," he said.
But he also sounded a note of concern: "Look, this is a military organization," he said. "It's moving towards our border. Why?"