Bush "optimistic" on Russia visit, missile defence
(dpa) - US President George W Bush will travel to Russia to meet with outgoing President Vladimir Putin for discussions on missile defence after attending the NATO summit April 2-4 in Bucharest.
Bush told a roundtable of foreign reporters Wednesday that Putin had invited him to the Black Sea resort of Sochi "to discuss the strategic agreement, the crucial part of which is missile defence."
Bush hopes to make progress in assuring Putin that the US plans to deploy a missile defence system to the Czech Republic and Poland do not threaten Russia, national security adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters earlier Wednesday.
"The main issue there is to find a way, in concrete terms, to reassure Russia that the radar and missile installation that is planned in Poland and the Czech Republic ... are not aimed at Russia," Hadley said.
Bush, who will propose developing a common missile defence system for Europe with the participation of NATO countries and Russia, said he was "optimistic we can reach accord."
"I think a lot of people in Europe would have a deep sigh of relief if we're able to reach an accord on missile defence," Bush said, according to a transcript released by the White House.
The United States wants to build the system to protect against Iran's growing ballistic missile capability, but Russia believes the plans threaten its own nuclear deterrent.
"One of the things that, hopefully, is clear to the Russian side is that this system is not aimed at Russia," Bush said. "After all, it doesn't take many missiles to overwhelm the kind of system we're talking about. And Russia has got plenty of missiles if they want to overwhelm."
Bush departs Monday for Ukraine before flying to Romania for the NATO gathering. He will then stop in Croatia before continuing to the meeting with Putin in Sochi, Russia, which was named last year to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The US plans - to place 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar installation in the Czech Republic - have angered Putin and prompted Moscow to warn that the sites could be targeted. The dispute has contributed to the lowest point in relations between the two countries since the end of the Cold War.
Russian officials were in Washington Wednesday for talks with their US counterparts on the missile defence issue. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defence Secretary Robert Gates flew earlier this month to Moscow in an effort to smooth over the dispute.
Bush said he has kept his criticism of Putin on "different matters related to their democracy" under the public radar so that the dialogue between the two leaders remains open.
"In order to have somebody listen to you, they (have) got to at least have an open mind, and it's hard to have an open mind if the only thing you're doing is try to blast away on a regular basis about your disagreements publicly," Bush said.