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The BBC's John Simpson's
report on the Malta summit between Presidents Bush and Gorbachev in 1989
 real 56k

The BBC's Martin Sixsmith's
report on the Vancouver summit between Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin in 1993
 real 56k

Friday, 15 June, 2001, 12:19 GMT 13:19 UK
Putin and Bush: A question of chemistry
George W Bush at Nato
Nato's expansion plans are likely to feature in the Bush-Putin meeting
By BBC Russian Affairs analyst Stephen Dalziel

No-one expects the meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart George W Bush to be a Russo-American love-in.

We can say already that it's not going to produce a Russian agreement to tear up the anti-ballistic missile treaty or an American plan not to deploy the missile defence shield.

But one thing which observers will be looking out for closely will be any signs which hint at whether the two men are getting on well together.

Personal relationships

Despite his apparently cold exterior, Mr Putin has already shown that he puts great store by establishing a personal relationship with foreign leaders.

Vladimir Putin
All eyes will be on how Mr Putin and Mr Bush get on
This has especially been the case with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder. Mr Blair took the unusual step of making an unofficial visit to St Petersburg while Mr Putin was still acting Russian president.

Their trip to the opera was taken as a loud endorsement of Mr Putin's candidacy for the job. And as families, the Putins and the Schroeders have already paid mutual visits to each other's homes.

Mr Putin chooses his international friends carefully, though. He speaks fluent German, and passable English, meaning that even if official interpreters are in attendance, with Mr Schroeder and Mr Blair he doesn't actually need them.

Clinton in the cold

And as someone who can expect to be leader of his country for some years hence, he wants relationships which will have some long-term significance.

Hence, he saw little point in making pals with Bill Clinton, when he knew that they would overlap as leaders for less than a year.

Patriot anti-missile system
Missile defence is a major sticking point
If only for the language and longevity reasons, he may now consider it worth trying to establish a relationship with Mr Bush.

This personal element has been a feature of relationships between the top men in Moscow and Washington ever since the first signs of a thaw in the Cold War in the late 1980s.

After six years without a meeting of the top two, the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and the US President Ronald Reagan met on neutral territory in Geneva in November 1985.

Talks were held in an informal setting, earning it the nickname of 'the fireside summit'.

Reagan and Gorbachev

After another meeting on neutral ground - Reykjavik - in 1986, the two leaders played home and away on the next two occasions. Mr Reagan was the host in December 1987, Mr Gorbachev in May 1988.

These summits played a major role in improving bilateral relations and cutting nuclear arsenals.

If Mr Reagan's meetings with Mr Gorbachev started with the fireside summit, George Bush Senior's relationship with the Soviet leader had a less cosy start.

Clinton and Yeltsin
Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin seemd to share a warm relationship
The venue for their first encounter, in December 1989, was a US warship anchored off Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. Turbulent weather led the meeting to be dubbed 'the seasick summit'.

Subsequent changes - from Mr Gorbachev to Boris Yeltsin in Moscow, and from Mr Bush to Mr Clinton in Washington - saw no disruption to the now smooth progress of Russo-US summits.

'Pancake'

And under Mr Yeltsin and Mr Clinton, the personal element of the relationship seemed to take on a new significance. The two men roared with laughter at one post-summit press conference when Mr Yeltsin insulted the press corps.

And Mr Clinton didn't seem to mind one bit when Mr Yeltsin stumbled over the US President's name, referring to him as "Blin Clinton". Blin means 'pancake' in Russian.

What the hell, thought Blin. Such culinary references are, after all, a traditional element of the US presidency.

Didn't John F Kennedy, on a visit to Berlin, declare: "Ich bin ein Berliner," which, according to urban myth, literally means "I am a doughnut."

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See also:

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