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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 July 2007, 00:36 GMT 01:36 UK
Fish but no fix at Bush-Putin summit
By Jamie Coomarasamy
BBC News, Kennebunkport

Vladimir Putin and George W Bush
The visit was a chance for Mr Putin and Mr Bush to smooth relations
The meeting between Presidents George W Bush and Vladimir Putin was always as much about cementing personal relations as reaching any significant agreement.

From the American point of view, it was important to show that the Russians share a common vision with the US on such issues as Iran's nuclear programme.

The White House also sees it as absolutely crucial to avoid the old Cold War rhetoric, whatever the Russians are saying.

Recent comments by Mr Putin in which he threatened to train Russia's missiles on Europe again as a response to planned US missile defence shield bases in Poland and the Czech Republic caused some alarm.

Mr Bush hinted at a little of that unease when asked whether he trusted Mr Putin.

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

Fish diplomacy

There was a flash of defiance too from Mr Putin on the subjects of democracy and freedom of the press in Russia.

Presidents George Bush Senior, Vladimir Putin and George W Bush on a fishing trip
Mr Putin was the only one to catch a fish - and then let it free

When Mr Bush mentioned concerns, Mr Putin referred to an interview by US talk show host Larry King which "tortured" former CIA director George Tenet with tough questions about Iraq intelligence as an example of why a free press is not always great.

He also made clear that Russia would "never, never accept" any interference in what it sees as its internal affairs.

There was still a simmering sense that one could only go so far beyond the courtesies of "fish diplomacy".

On the fishing trip in question - where Mr Putin joined Mr Bush and his father, President George Bush Senior - the Russian leader was the only one to catch anything, reportedly a striped bass 30 inches (76cm) long.

He also made a small gaffe, referring to Bush Sr and Jr as the 40th and 42nd presidents of the US - who were in fact Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton - as he politely said the catch had been a team effort.

Strategic move

But in many regards, Mr Putin can be regarded as having come out on top at the summit.

The relationship of our two countries would be raised to an entirely new level
Vladimir Putin
Russian president

He was the person coming up with new proposals on the planned US anti-missile defence shield and putting the row over the planned US sites in Eastern Europe in a wider context.

His suggestion that a new radar facility could be built in southern Russia - alongside a proposal to modernise a radar station in Azerbaijan - would put co-operation between the two nations on security at the highest ever level.

The Russian leader also went further than expected in proposing they widen discussions on missile defence to include other European countries and conduct them within the framework of the Russia-Nato council.

Vladimir Putin and George W Bush at Kennebunkport
There may still be stormy weather ahead for Russian-US relations

The result was that Mr Putin looked like he was making positive proposals without really giving anything away.

Mr Bush responded politely but cautiously to what he called a "constructive and bold strategic move" - and had to re-state the bottom line that the US considers the Czech Republic and Poland to be an "integral part" of the system.

Mr Putin was also accorded the special status of being the first world leader to be invited to Kennebunkport, the Maine summer retreat of George Bush Senior, during George W's presidency.

Meanwhile, for Mr Bush the summit was all about showing that he and Mr Putin could still be friends - and that his comment six years ago that he had got "a sense of his soul" was not misguided.

But the bottom line is that beyond the smiles and the lobster dinner, the pair have not resolved any of the big issues that have strained their nations' relationship in recent months.

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Presidents Bush and Putin united on Iran



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