Calm Tone Precedes Bush-Putin Summit

In the twilight of their presidencies, Bush and Putin seem to be trying to smooth things over for their successors. After Friday's NATO meeting in Bucharest, the White House said Putin's tone was constructive. On Sunday, the two presidents meet in Russia.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

The NATO summit in Bucharest ended today after a meeting between Russia and the NATO council. Then, President Bush left on a visit to Croatia. On Sunday, he meets Russia's Vladimir Putin. The two presidents attended today's meeting in Bucharest.

And as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, White House officials say Putin's tone was constructive.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Russia opposes a lot of what NATO is doing. It's angry with the alliance's statement promising future membership to ex-Soviet states, Ukraine, and Georgia, and endorsing U.S. plans for a missile defense system.

But President Putin came out of his meeting with NATO leaders in Bucharest today, trying to sound constructive.

President VLADIMIR PUTIN (Russia): (Speaking foreign language)

KELEMEN: Let's be friends, guys, he said, and engage in an honest dialogue.

Russia agreed to let NATO use supply routes through its territory to bring non-military aid to Afghanistan.

A senior Bush administration official described Putin's tone behind closed doors as matter of fact and straightforward, at times, even classy. The official made clear the two are thinking about their legacies. President Bush told Putin, quote, "We're two old warhorses both getting ready to step down from our positions." And the official said the president reminded Putin that the Cold War is over, and NATO is not a threat.

Mr. Bush still has a lot of convincing to do though, judging from Putin's remarks through an interpreter.

Pres. PUTIN: (Through Translator) The appearance of a powerful military bloc along our borders would be taken in Russia as a direct threat to the security of my country.

KELEMEN: He acknowledged that relations have been tensed, in part, because of what he called Russia's resurrection in the world. The Russian and U.S. presidents are to have what, Mr. Bush says, will be a heart-to-heart meeting this weekend at Putin's vacation home in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Mr. Bush will also be meeting Putin's successor, Dmitry Medvedev, who takes over in May. But first, the president is spending the day in Croatia, one of the newest members of the NATO alliance.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Zagreb.

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