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Bush Holds Pit-Stop Meeting With Putin

US President George W. Bush (C) chats with Russian President Vladimir Putin upon his arrival at Vnukovo Airport 15 November 2006 in Moscow. Bush was due to meet with Putin during a refueling stop in Moscow en route to Singapore where he will stop for a visit before heading to Vietnam for the APEC Summit. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
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President Bush, eager for Russian help in ongoing nuclear disputes with North Korea and Iran, tended to the sometimes frosty Washington-Moscow relationship Wednesday by paying a quick call on President Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Bush spent 90 minutes with Putin at a VIP lounge at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport, during what is commonly called a "gas and go." Over a sumptuous meal of Russian delicacies like crab and caviar, the two presidents discussed the final details of an agreement that would give Russia permission to join the World Trade Organization, reports CBS News Moscow producer Beth Knobel.

Mr. Bush paused to visit the Russian leader for an hour and a half at an airport stopover on his way to Asia for an eight-day trip that includes stays in Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia. Mr. Bush has meetings scheduled with several important allies, including Putin, on the sidelines of a summit of Pacific Rim leaders in Hanoi, Vietnam, later this week. But only Putin rated a social call as well.

Russian news agencies quoted Kremlin spokesman Alexei Gromov as saying the two presidents discussed the Iranian nuclear program, the situation in the Middle East and nuclear nonproliferation.

Gromov also confirmed that a bilateral agreement on Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization was being readied for signing in Hanoi.

National security adviser Stephen Hadley, talking to reporters aboard Air Force One after Mr. Bush left, said that the president's get-together with Putin "was a social meeting as we said it would be. This was a refueling stop."

But Hadley also said that they "talked a little bit about proliferation generally" with regards to Iran and North Korea. He also said that he spoke with his Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov, about efforts to find an agreement on a new U.N. security resolution on Iran.

"We had a good discussion about that," Hadley said. "I think basically the strategy that all of the countries who are working on this is to come up with a resolution themselves. I think the Russians think it's sound."

When Mr. Bush and his wife, Laura, landed, they were greeted on a red carpet on the tarmac by Putin and his wife, Lyudmila. The Russian president presented Mrs. Bush with a bouquet of yellow, orange and red flowers and the foursome exchanged kisses.

Inside the marble-floored Vnukovo Airport terminal, the two couples took seats in ornate armchairs for photographers, a table nearby laid with lunch. The Bushes presented their hosts with a gift of a jumbo photograph of the four of them in one of the golf-cart sized electric cars that the Russians made available to leaders attending the Group of Eight summit Putin hosted in St. Petersburg in June.

The brief gathering was billed by White House advisers as not much more than a greeting between friends while Bush accepted the Russian generosity of allowing Air Force One to refuel in Moscow halfway through the 19-hour flight to Singapore. But the rarity of a president flying east to Asia, rather than west, no doubt reflected that the Washington-Moscow relationship needs a little extra care lately.

Russian officials described the meeting as cordial. As Mr. Bush was boarding his plane to resume his journey, he got a hug from Putin.

Russia voted for U.S.-backed United Nations sanctions on North Korea after it conducted a nuclear weapons test. Now Washington is seeking to overcome Russian reluctance toward an upcoming vote on U.N. sanctions against Iran over its disputed nuclear program.

At the United Nations in New York, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said, "We've been trying to get sanctions in the Security Council against Iran's nuclear weapons program and we've been having a lot of difficulty with Russia in particular, so I hope they had a chance to talk about that issue."

"The key thing is for Russia to internalize that the fight against nuclear proliferation is more important than commercial contracts and that we're all safer when we don't enable countries like Iran and North Korea in their pursuit of nuclear weapons," he said.

Bolton added: "However simple it is to say, there are a lot of people who think the commercial aspect of their relationship with Iran and North Korea is more important. We've got to keep pounding away on it because it's not just Iran and North Korea. Other countries are watching and if those two countries succeed in getting and keeping nuclear weapons, other countries will draw a bad conclusion."

Hadley played down any differences that might exist between Washington and Moscow on Iran.

"Look we have these struggles on these resolutions all the time and they result in a lot of press stories about 'disarrary in the international communities,' but I would remind you that over the last few years, when the time has come the international community has pulled together," he said.

"You know it's a little bit like sausage making. It's not pretty and a lot of it spills out to the public, but I think the international community has held together on this issue and I think it will again."

The Bush administration has sharpened criticism of democratic erosion under Putin this year, particularly with the murder last month of a reporter critical of Russian policy in Chechnya. Objections include a Russian law restricting charity groups.

Russia's escalating spat with Georgia, a former Soviet republic, has also clouded relations with the United States. Putin, aware of cooling relations with the United States and Europe, also has been working to build Russia's influence in its neighborhood and in Asia.

On Russia's side, relations have been strained by delays in an agreement with Washington for Moscow's entry into the WTO, a longtime Russian goal. Now, after 12 years of negotiations, the countries are moving toward signing a bilateral pact in Hanoi.

Russia's trade ministry said the minister, German Gref, expects to sign the long-anticipated WTO deal Sunday with U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab.

Putin and Bush also are due to meet again Sunday in Hanoi.

  • Tucker Reals

    Tucker Reals is the CBSNews.com foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.