To Russia, Without Much Love In Return

U.S. President George Bush walks with Russian President Vladimir Putin at his summer residence in Sochi, Russia Saturday, April 5, 2008. Bush began a farewell call in Russia on Saturday as the White House abandoned hope of a major agreement on missile defense during weekend talks with Putin.(AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Presidential Press Service, Vladimir Rodionov)
AP/V. Rodionov, RIA Novosti, PPS
It's their 22nd and final summit.

Vladimir Putin's term as president expires next month, and George W. Bush is a lame duck as well, but as CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller reports, both want to be seen as in-touch and on-the-job.

The president is meeting with Putin at the Russian leader's summer place in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, reports CBS News White House correspondent Bill Plante.

"This will be a chance to say I appreciate being able to work together, you know, and to be able to try to find some common interests in the waning days of his presidency," Mr. Bush said earlier this week.

Putin has made it very clear that he regards NATO's enlargement as a potential threat.

The Bush administration's plans to deploy a missile shield in Europe have also been a major source of friction between Washington and Moscow.

The White House says it does not expect President Bush's talks with his Russian counterpart to produce a deal on the missile defense system.

"We're going to have to do more work after Sochi," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters traveling with President Bush on Air Force One to Russia from Zagreb, Croatia, where the president celebrated the expansion of NATO into former communist territory.

"No one has said that everything would be finalized and everyone would be satisfied with all the preparations because we haven't even started to work on the technical aspects of the system," she said. "We're still in the early part of these discussions."

But, Perino added, "the dialogue is headed in the right direction and that this meeting will be able to push that along even further."

Though Russia vigorously opposes placing a missile defense system in its backyard, the concept won the full support of NATO leaders earlier this week at a summit in Bucharest, Romania, which Mr. Bush attended.

Perino said U.S. officials are working to convince Russia that it has little to fear from such a system.

"I think we have made great strides in bringing confidence to the Russians that this system is not aimed at Russia and Russia is not the enemy," she said. "You've heard the president say the Cold War is over, and if you look at what NATO just did this past week on missile defense people have come to the realization that together, working cooperatively, we can help deter or prevent an attack from a rogue nation in the Middle East, not from Russia."

Aside from the NATO endorsement, the anti-missile program also advanced with the Czech Republic's agreement to host a radar system that would track the sky for any threats. The White House has to complete a deal with Poland where 10 interceptor rockets would be based.

Plante reports that a deal with Moscow might still be struck this weekend.

Putin was not at the airport to greet Mr. Bush upon his arrival at Sochi. By then, the trip had assumed an air of informality as Mr. Bush and most of those accompanying him had removed their neck ties. Mr. Bush also had changed from a business suit into a sport coat and slacks.

In the twilight of their presidencies, Mr. Bush and Putin met in hopes of reversing a years-long slide in relations and leaving their successors a broad strategy for more cooperation and less confrontation. The list of grievances between the two sides is formidable.

They opened their meeting with a warm handshake and smiles at Putin's heavily wooded retreat on the Black Sea. Putin took Mr. Bush to the second floor of his guesthouse to show off a tabletop display of the 2014 Winter Olympics that will be held here. "This is your yacht," he joked to Mr. Bush, pointing at a 3-inch white ship on a blue patch representing the water. The president chuckled.

Mr. Bush and Putin and their wives met Saturday evening for an informal dinner. Mr. Bush had stripped off his necktie and Putin wore a turtleneck and casual jacket. Dmitry Medvedev, who takes over May 7 as Putin's hand-picked successor, also was invited. Mr. Bush and Putin will hold their final business meeting Sunday, scheduled for an hour, and then the president and Medvedev will sit down for a half-hour.

There was a Cossack chorus and folk dancing during entertainment over dinner. Putin and Bush made their way to the stage and took part in a traditional dance, White House press secretary Dana Perino said. "They are comfortable with each other in less formal settings," she said.

Mr. Bush and Putin will announce the results of their discussions at a climactic news conference promising a preview of the future of U.S.-Russia relations.

Known for their blunt talk and candor, the two leaders have never been afraid to hide their differences. Their meeting will close a seven-year relationship that got off to a strong start and was strengthened by cooperation after the Sept. 11 attacks, but then turned rocky on differences ranging from the Iraq war to Kosovo's independence. Putin has bristled at Mr. Bush's admonishment that Russia has retreated from democracy.

Mr. Bush and Putin are expected to sign a "strategic framework" to guide future relations, and U.S. officials hope the Russians, in the broad context of that statement, will say they are willing to cooperate on missile defense. That would be short of a Russian embrace of U.S. missile defense plans, but it appears to be the best the administration thinks it can achieve now.

Perino said the framework would deal with security cooperation, nonproliferation issues, counterterrorism and economic matters, and that the language would be broad. "I don't expect a lot of details," she said.

In Zagreb Saturday, President Bush praised Croatians as hardworking, freedom-loving people and promised that America and NATO would stand by Croatia if anyone should endanger it.

Cheerful and relaxed, Mr. Bush spoke to thousands of Croats gathered at Zagreb's St. Mark's square on the second day of his visit to the ex-Yugoslav country.

Washington did not initially support Croatia's independence - which was declared in 1991 and was followed by a war with rebel Serbs who opposed it. It was not until April 1992 that the U.S. recognized Croatian independence - three months after the European Union did. In the 1990s, Washington also disapproved of Croatian nationalism. Today, Croatia is staunchly pro-Western.

Mr. Bush came to Zagreb from a NATO summit at which Croatia was invited to join the alliance, achieving one of its most-desired goals.

Mr. Bush's visit is seen by the government as a confirmation that Croatia is now fully embraced by the West.

"Should any danger threaten your people, America and the NATO alliance will stand with you and no one will be able to take your freedom away," he said to cheers from the audience.

He said Croatia "is a very different place" than it was just a decade ago.

"The Croatian people have overcome war and hardship to build peaceful relations with your neighbors, and to build a maturing democracy in one of the most beautiful countries on the face of the Earth," he said.

"There are those who ask whether the pain and sacrifices for freedom are worth the costs," he said. "And they should come to Croatia. And you can show them that freedom is worth fighting for."

He thanked Croatia, Macedonia and Albania for participating in the war against terror - even though Croatia has no troops in Iraq.