WASHINGTON – President Bush said Wednesday he will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week to try to break a logjam between the two nations over a proposed U.S. missile defense system.
Bush is accepting Putin's invitation for a meeting in the Russian resort city of Sochi on April 6, to come at the end of the president's trip that starts Monday to Ukraine, Croatia and the NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania. It will likely be the last between Bush and the Russian leader before Putin leaves office. Putin's successor as Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, takes office at the beginning of May.
Bush announced the visit during a pre-trip interview with foreign journalists. He said he and Putin would discuss the missile defense system that the United States plans to base in Central Europe. It would involve 10 interceptor missiles based in Poland and a tracking radar system in the Czech Republic.
Moscow has been vehemently opposed to the idea, saying the intent is to weaken its nuclear deterrent. The United States denies that, saying the facilities being designed would protect Europe against a potential missile attack — or even just nuclear blackmail — by Iran.
The dispute has become heated, with increasingly confrontational rhetoric coming from Moscow. But there have been signs of cooling recently and Bush said he wanted to build on that.
Talks in Moscow between high-level Russian officials and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates brought no visible breakthrough. But Russia has made some conciliatory statements and a delegation is in Washington this week for more talks.
"Hopefully we could advance our dialogue so that at some point in time we could reach agreement on this important matter," Bush said. "The way to look at this is a follow-up to Condi and Bob Gates' meetings."