Bush, Putin at Odds Over NATO Expansion, Missile Defense

NEWYou can now listen to Fox News articles!

President Bush, fresh from securing full NATO support for his missile defense plans for Europe and a pledge to admit former Soviet republics, has plenty to discuss with Russia's Vladimir Putin.

Bush will see the outgoing Russian president face to face at least three times in the next three days, wrapping up a leader-to-leader relationship that has lasted nearly a decade. Putin leaves office next month.

In Bucharest on Friday and the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi on Saturday and Sunday, Bush will meet Putin amid new tensions in U.S.-Russian relations, even as he, himself, prepares for post-government life next year.

Bush goes into the meetings having won NATO backing to install a missile shield in the former Soviet eastern European satellites of Poland and the Czech Republic over Russian objections.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called it a "breakthrough agreement" for the military alliance, which was sugarcoated by the announcement of a U.S. deal with the Czech Republic, which will host a radar site vital to the missile defense system.

Yet at the same time, Bush will be seeing Putin after losing, at least for the moment, a highly public spat over opening the door to NATO membership to Ukraine and Georgia, which Putin vehemently opposes. Bush backed down on immediately starting that process.

Still, he has gotten a written commitment from the allies, including Germany and France, which shared Russian concerns, that the two nations eventually will become NATO members. Bush's administration plans to continue to press the matter before his second term expires in January.

So, the meetings over the next three days take place with both short-timers looking to burnish their legacies.

Rice said the two leaders were expected to produce "a strategic framework" to guide relations between Washington and Moscow under their successors. "Part of that has to be some discussion of missile defense," Rice said, but she stopped short of saying the two leaders would find agreement on the prickly subject.

Russia views the system as designed to weaken its military might and upset the balance of power in Europe. Bush argues that the shield is not aimed at Russia but at Mideast countries such as Iran.

In a series of concessions, the White House has offered to let Moscow monitor the sites and promised to delay activation of the shield until Iran or another adversary tests a missile capable of reaching Europe.

Rice said the Russians indicated that those measures were viewed as "useful and important" when she and Defense Secretary Robert Gates were in Moscow last month. "We hope that we can move beyond that to an understanding that we all have an interest in cooperation on missile defense. But we will see."

The NATO endorsement of the U.S. missile plan said "ballistic missile proliferation poses an increasing threat to allies' forces, territory and populations. Missile defense forms part of a broader response to counter this threat."

The statement called on NATO members to explore ways in which the planned U.S. project can be linked with future missile shields elsewhere. It said leaders should come up with recommendations to be considered at their next meeting in 2009.

Significantly, the document prodded Russia "to take advantage of United States missile defense cooperation proposals" and said NATO was "ready to explore the potential for linking United States, NATO and Russian missile defense systems at an appropriate time."

The United States still is moving to seal an agreement with Poland, where 10 interceptor rockets would be based.