HEILIGENDAMM, Germany - After a torrent of sharp
exchanges, President Bush tried to stop a steep slide in relations with Vladimir
Putin on Wednesday by saying Russia is not a menace to Europe despite a threat
to aim missiles at the West.
"Russia is not going to attack Europe," the president said, brushing off
Putin's warning that he would reposition Russian rockets in retaliation for an
American-devised missile shield to be based in Poland and the Czech Republic.
"Russia is not an enemy," Bush emphasized. "There needs to be no military
response because we're not at war with Russia."
A day before meeting privately with Putin here, Bush appeared eager to call a
time-out in the bickering over everything from criticism about Russia's
backslide on democracy to Putin's complaints about U.S.-backed independence for
Kosovo and a supposed new arms race triggered by Washington.
"There will be disagreements," the president said, relaxing in the sun during
an interview with a handful of reporters before the annual summit of major
industrialized countries. "That's just the way life works. But that doesn't
necessarily lend itself to speculation that somehow the relationship between me
and the president (Putin) is not a positive relationship. It is a positive ¡ª and
I'm going to work to keep it that way."
Asked if he expected a tense session with Putin, Bush said, "Could be ¡ª I
don't think so, though. I'll work to see that it's not a tense meeting."
The Russians projected a similar air.
Putin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said open hostility is part of a constructive
relationship, even as he reiterated disagreements with U.S. views of Russian
democracy and dissatisfaction with explanations about the missile shield.
Peskov promised "uncomfortable consequences" if the shield is deployed, and
said U.S.-Russia ties are "not limited only by disagreements."
But, he added: "We give ourselves the right to expect our partners to listen
to our concerns."
Bush, tieless and with his shirt sleeves rolled up, sat for the interview
just hours before the opening of the Group of Eight summit with Germany, Canada,
Britain, France, Italy, Japan, the United States and Russia.
The leaders gathered in Heiligendamm, a Baltic Sea town in northern Germany
that was circled by seven miles of razor wire-topped fence.
Thousands of demonstrators blocked roads to the summit site, and thousands
more streamed toward the fence. Police used water cannons to scatter
stone-throwing protesters. Hundreds of demonstrators dressed like clowns
scampered in the woods and paraded on streets.
At a pre-summit lunch, Bush discussed combatting global warming and poverty
in Africa with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the summit host. She advocates a
tougher stand on climate change than Bush.
Merkel said they had a "very good debate ... but I trust that we will work
out joint positions."
In the interview, Bush said he would not yield to Merkel's proposals for
mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions. Bush has countered with a plan for
negotiations among the United States and other nations that spew the most
greenhouse gases to set a long-term strategy by the end of next year for
reducing emissions. U.S. officials said Bush was willing to move more quickly to
Jim Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental
Quality, said an agreement on global warming was "almost done."
Bush also met with new Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and discussed North
Korea's pledge to close its sole nuclear reactor in exchange for economic aid
and political concessions.
"There is a common message here and that is: We expect North Korea to honor
agreements," Bush said.
In the interview, Bush offered his case for why Russia should not worry about
a U.S. missile shield in Europe.
The shield could defend against only one or two rocket launchers, Bush said.
"Russia has got an inventory that could overpower any missile defense system,"
he said. "The practicality is that this is aimed at a country like Iran, if they
ended up with a nuclear weapon, so that they couldn't blackmail the free world."
Told that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had said it was too late to
stop Iran's nuclear program, Bush responded: "Therefore, let's build a missile
"And, yes, we're going to work to stop him," Bush said, adding that he was
seeking tougher sanctions against Iran at the U.N. Security Council.
A week after announcing tighter U.S. sanctions against Sudan, Bush called on
other countries to follow the United States and apply pressure to stop the
misery in Darfur. He said he would consider supporting calls for a no-flight ban
"I'm frustrated because there are still people suffering and yet the U.N.
process is moving at a snail's pace," Bush said.
A day after accusing Russia of backsliding on democracy, Bush took pains to
emphasize positive developments.
Under Putin, Russia has put major news media under state control, stripped
governors of their independence and cracked down on nongovernment civic groups.
Critics accuse him of steering his country toward authoritarianism and
Bush sought the silver lining.
"Society has advanced a long way from the old Soviet era," he said. "There is
a growing middle class, there is prosperity, there's elections."
Yet, Bush said Russia "is certainly not perfect in the eyes of many
Americans," taking note, for instance, of anxiety about Moscow's growing energy