Bush says Russia won't attack Europe

Updated: 2007-06-07 07:58

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.

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"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 and I'm going to work to keep it that way."

Asked if he expected a tense session with Putin, Bush said, "Could be 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 set goals.

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 defense system.

"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 over Darfur.

"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 isolation.

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 clout.

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