Bush to host Russia's Putin in Maine in July 1st & 2nd!
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush will host Russia's President Vladimir Putin in July amid tensions over U.S. plans to build a missile shield in Europe and criticism that Moscow is retreating on democracy.
Putin will visit Bush at his parents' home in the resort town of Kennebunkport, Maine, July 1-2, White House spokesman Tony Snow said on Wednesday.
"The president looks forward to the visit as part of the intensive bilateral dialogue with President Putin," Snow said. "Cooperation between the United States and Russia is important in solving regional conflicts, stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and combating terrorism and extremism."
The two presidents will discuss Iran, civil nuclear cooperation and missile defense, Snow said. They will also see each other next week during the Group of Eight summit in Germany.
Putin is opposed to U.S. plans for a missile shield in Europe that Bush says is to counter potential threats from other states.
U.S. officials emphasize that the United States will keep trying to convince Moscow that U.S. plans to put 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic are not designed to threaten Russia but rather to protect Europe.
Russia successfully test-fired a new intercontinental ballistic missile this week that had multiple warheads, and Putin said deployment of a missile shield in Europe would turn the continent into "a powder keg."
Another strain in relations is U.S. concern that human rights and democracy are backsliding in Russia.
But despite their differences, Bush still views Putin as a straight-talker and a leader with whom he can have candid discussions.
"The fact is, look, there are some areas where we disagree, where we've had open disagreements," Snow said.
"And one of the interesting things about the president and President Putin is that they are not afraid to ventilate them and they're brutally honest with one another," he said. "The president has always made the point that when he is talking with President Putin, President Putin's never lied to him."
The visit will be "partly social," and inviting Putin to the home of Bush's parents, rather than the White House or the president's Texas ranch was "a reflection of the fact that these guys do get along," Snow said.
Julianne Smith, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said discussing contentious issues like human rights and missile defense in the relaxed setting of Kennebunkport might be more conducive to frank talks.
"My sense is the president has got a really tough message to deliver to Putin," she said.
(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan)