TOYAKO, Japan – President Bush on Monday called new Russian President Dmitry Medvedev a "smart guy" who understands the issues. But the U.S. president would not go so far as to say he got a sense of Medvedev's soul, as he once famously said of Vladimir Putin after their first meeting.
"I'm not going to sit here and psychoanalyze the guy," Bush said after his first sit-down with Medvedev since the Russian president took office. "He's comfortable and confident, and I believe when he tells me something, he means it."
The two leaders met on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit. They both emphasized that there were issues of agreement between their countries-- such as dealing with North Korea and Iran -- but also areas of disagreement, such as U.S. plans for a European-based missile shield.
"I found him to be a smart guy who understands issues very well," Bush said.
Medvedev, who referred to Bush informally as "George," said Bush's presidency isn't over and that he intends to intensify discussions with him. The new Russian leader said he would build upon U.S.-Russia relations with the next U.S. president, whomever that turns out to be.
Medvedev took office last month as Putin's hand-picked successor. Putin still wields enormous influence at home as prime minister.
Medvedev's appearance could help him make the case he is emerging from Putin's shadow and carving out a leadership role. In an interview with journalists from G-8 countries last week, Medvedev suggested that he, not Putin, is in charge.
Republican presidential candidate John McCain has urged stripping Russia of its G-8 membership because of autocratic steps by Putin. Neither fellow Republican Bush nor Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama shares that view.
Ahead of the Bush-Medvedev meeting, the Kremlin issued a statement suggesting that good personal ties are developing between Bush and the new president and that a transition period following the change of presidents in Russia "was practically unneeded." The statement, by the Kremlin press service, mentions that Bush will be replaced next January, but that in the meantime "we have a lot of work on the current agenda with the Bush administration ... "
"The overall balance of the Russian-American strategic dialogue remains positive, but that of course does not mean there are no `serious differences,' said the statement. For instance, on missile defense, the Kremlin said, "our basic approaches still differ."
Earlier, Bush defended removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and attending the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics as world leaders assembled to address soaring gas prices, climate change and African aid.
They faced major differences, especially over how far to go in trying to set limits on pollutants that contribute to global warming.
The host of this year's Group of Eight summit, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, and other leaders would like to see the top industrialized nations and other fast-growing economies such as China and India pledge a 50 percent cut by 2050 in the emissions that contribute to global warming. The Bush administration has not shown any enthusiasm for such a commitment without cooperation from the Chinese and Indians.
"I've always advocated that there needs to be a common understanding and that starts with a goal. And I also am realistic enough to tell you that if China and India don't share that same aspiration, that we're not going to solve the problem," Bush said at a pre-summit news conference with Fukuda.
The leaders of the U.S., Japan, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Canada and Russia were kicking off the meeting Monday at a remote mountaintop resort overlooking a lake formed by a volcanic crater on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. The session ends Wednesday with a larger gathering that brings in eight additional countries -- Australia, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Korea and South Africa.
Hundreds of protesters rallied under heavy police security Sunday. A demonstration by about 2,500 people on Saturday led to a brief clash with police; four people, including a television cameraman, were detained. Protesters have not been able to get near the summit venue, but have scheduled daily rallies about 60 miles north, in Sapporo, the largest nearby city.
At a news conference with Fukuda, Bush defended his decision to attend the Olympics opening ceremonies on Aug. 8. Among the leaders who plan to skip that event are British Minister Gordon Brown, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is considering not attending.
China's role as host has focused attention on its human rights record and the security crackdown in Tibet; some U.S. conservatives have criticized Bush for planning to go to the opening ceremonies.
"The Chinese people are watching very carefully about the decisions by world leaders and I happen to believe that not going to the opening ceremony for the games would be an affront to the Chinese people, which may make it more difficult to be able to speak frankly with the Chinese leadership," the president said.
Fukuda announced that he also intended to go.
"There are many aspiring athletes that will be going to Beijing, and I would like to cheer them on, too, which I think is only natural. I don't think you really have to link Olympics to politics," the prime minister said.
Bush also addressed Japanese concerns over the kidnapping of Japanese citizens by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s. Those abducted apparently were used to train North Korean agents in Japanese language and customs.
Japanese citizens are upset about the U.S. move to remove North Korea from the State Department's terror blacklist in exchange for the North's decision to admit to some of its nuclear weapons work and its commencement of work to dismantle its nuclear facilities.
As a condition for sending aid and improving relations with the impoverished North, Japan long has pushed for the resolution of the issue of the abductions.