Putin Proposes Broader Cooperation on Missile Defense

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 3, 2007

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine, July 2 -- Russian President Vladimir Putin offered an expanded counterproposal to U.S. missile defense plans on Monday, challenging President Bush to build a regional European missile shield that could include a sophisticated new radar facility on Russian soil.

Putin's proposal went far beyond the cooperation he first suggested in Germany last month and surprised Bush as the two leaders wrapped up two days of informal meetings at the president's family compound in this oceanfront resort town. Bush welcomed the plan, and his advisers said Putin's suggestions convinced them that he is serious about working together, not just posturing, as they initially suspected.

But the two sides remained at odds over the core issue -- whether Bush would deploy anti-missile facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic over the objections of Putin, who sees them as a threat to Russian security. And for all the optimism voiced by senior U.S. officials about the prospects of finding agreement, past attempts by Washington and Moscow to work together to guard against accidental or rogue missile launches have gone nowhere.

"The deck has been dealt, and we are here to play," Putin said as he stood at Bush's side overlooking the rocky coast at the Walker's Point compound. "And I would very much hope that we are playing one and the same game."

The discussion of missile defense dominated a visit intended to repair the deepening fractures in the U.S.-Russian relationship. Putin in recent months has denounced U.S. anti-missile plans as the start of a new arms race, threatened to withdraw from a conventional-forces treaty and implicitly compared Bush's international policies to those of the Third Reich.

Bush hoped to use the relaxed atmosphere here to reestablish a bond frayed since he first met Putin in 2001. Fresh from a speedboat outing with Bush's father, in which Putin caught the only fish, the two presidents emerged from the estate to address reporters and reaffirm their friendship. Playing to wounded Russian pride, Bush hailed the "amazing transformation" in Russia since Putin took office 7 1/2 years ago.

"Is it perfect from the eyes of Americans? Not necessarily," Bush said. "Is the change real? Absolutely. And it's in our interests, in the U.S. interests, to have good, solid relations with Russia."

Bush reiterated that he considers Putin a friend. "Do I trust him? Yes, I trust him," he said. "Do I like everything he says? No. And I suspect he doesn't like everything I say. But we're able to say it in a way that shows mutual respect."

The two presidents avoided the announcements and signings that typify a formal summit, but U.S. officials later said that on Tuesday in Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will sign a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement negotiated over the past year as well as a declaration on fighting nuclear proliferation. They will also release a joint statement on the future of nuclear arms after the expiration of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) regime in 2009.

Putin's missile defense proposal caught Bush and his advisers off guard. Last month Putin suggested using a Soviet-era radar facility in Azerbaijan as an alternative to building a new U.S. radar in the Czech Republic. U.S. officials indicated that the Russian-run installation is too antiquated to target incoming missiles.

Putin addressed that concern during the two-day meeting, saying that if the radar in Azerbaijan is not adequate, Russia will modernize it. And if that is not feasible, he said, Russia will build a modern radar facility in southern Russia. He also proposed putting the system under the auspices of the NATO-Russia Council to make it a European anti-missile shield and advocated setting up joint early-warning centers in Moscow and Brussels.

"There would be no need to place any more facilities in Europe," Putin said. If Bush accepts, Putin added, it would transform U.S.-Russian ties. "The relations between our two countries would be raised to an entirely new level. Gradually, our relations would become those of a strategic partnership nature."

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