Putin and Bush: meet to show unity among differences

Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush, despite their political relationship being strained, are trying to speak with one voice about the war on terrorism and the campaign to stop North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

The two leaders were meeting Friday, apparently still at odds over how to address Iran's nuclear programs and with long-running differences over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and U.S. concern that Russia is retreating from democracy.

At a news conference Thursday, Bush took issue with his domestic critics and said it was "patriotic as heck to disagree with the president." But he added, "What bothers me is when people are irresponsibly using their positions and playing politics. That's exactly what is taking place in America."

Friday's meeting was the fifth between Bush and Putin this year, following talks in Moscow; Washington; Bratislava, Slovakia, and Gleneagles, Scotland. Despite their disputes, they're on a first-name basis and emphasize their friendship, which was strengthened when Putin and supported Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Bush and Putin were meeting ahead of the annual summit of leaders from the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. The key topics would be Iran, North Korea, terrorism, trade, Moscow's goal of joining the World Trade Organization by the end of the year and developments in Russia, the White House said.

Bush also was to meet with Southeast Asian leaders to underscore U.S. interest in the region, one of the battlegrounds in the fight against terrorists.

Bush planned to ask the leaders to exert their influence on the military junta in Myanmar, which U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said was "one of the worst regimes in the world" for its record on human rights and free speech.

Putin has refused to support Bush in his eagerness to go to the U.N. Security Council with suspicions Iran is trying to build a nuclear arsenal. Over U.S. objections, Russia is building a nuclear reactor for a power plant in Iran, an $800 million (euro685 million) project Washington fears could be used to help develop nuclear arms.

Putin says that he shares the U.S. goal of an Iran without nuclear arms but that he has been assured Tehran has no ambitions for developing a nuclear weapon and instead wants its program for civilian energy use alone.

Bush and Putin have generally agreed on a need to avert the spread of nuclear weapons technology to other nations, including North Korea. Russia is a partner with the United States, China, Japan and South Korea in talks aimed at persuading North Korea to halt its nuclear program in return for energy and security guarantees.

The political relationship between Bush and Putin has frayed, in part because of U.S. concerns that Putin is consolidating power in the Kremlin and eroding democratic advances in post-Soviet Russia.

Putin has been outspoken about the struggle against terrorism, but U.S. officials accuse Russia of turning a blind eye toward what they say is Iranian and Syrian support for terrorists.

Russian officials accuse the United States and European nations of maintaining double standards on terrorism and have repeatedly lashed out at them for granting asylum to Chechen rebel figures they consider terrorists. Putin and other officials have suggested some in the West are at least tacitly supporting terrorists in hopes of weakening or dividing Russia, AP reports. P.T.

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