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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
The annual G-8 conference of the world's leading economic powers is underway in a German resort town on the Baltic Sea. Summit host - Angela Merkel, the German chancellor - will lead a discussion on climate change. The U.S. is opposed to the tough set of rules she's proposed, and that means the focus will be more on the need to act than on specific solutions.
President Bush is meeting one-on-one with Britain's Tony Blair and Russia's Vladimir Putin. The Putin meeting could be difficult, given growing tensions between the U.S. and Russia, as NPR's Don Gonyea reports.
DON GONYEA: For the president, it's a day of meetings in this seaside town of Heiligendamm, Germany, with leaders who have each played a significant role in defining his time in office.
The Blair session took on an almost nostalgic tone, as it could be the last time these two men meet as president and prime minister. Blair leaves office at the end of the month. He has been President Bush's closest friend and ally among foreign leaders, and was instrumental in helping Mr. Bush make the case for the Iraq war - a war that has damaged each politically. Today, they shook hands warmly as they posed for possibly a final joint photo-op.
During the session, they covered familiar ground. They talked about climate change, about fighting the spread of AIDS and malaria in Africa. They discussed the crisis in Darfur. Still to come today is the meeting between President Bush and Vladimir Putin. Don't look for nostalgia at that session, even though this is also Mr. Putin's final G-8 summit. He is scheduled to leave office next year.
There's growing rancor in a relationship that President Bush once described as warm and close. The White House has been openly critical of what it considers Russian backsliding on democratic reforms and a crackdown on dissidence. Analysts say the relationship between the U.S. and Russia is as chilly as it's been since the end of the Cold War.
Putin's current anger with the U.S. is over Mr. Bush's plan for a defensive missile shield to be based in Europe. The U.S. insist it's no threat to Russia, that it's designed to protect against some attack from a rogue state such as Iran. Putin doesn't believe that and says if the shield goes up, he'll have no choice but to aim Russian missiles at Western Europe.
Here at the summit, President Bush seems to be trying to dial back on some of the heated rhetoric. He stressed that even if Russia targets Europe, as Putin promises, the U.S. would not need to respond militarily. The president said emphatically that Russia is not going to attack Europe and that Russia is not an enemy.
Standing next to Blair, the president said he'll offer assurances to Putin, and, quote, "that this is not something we should hyperventilate about." It's been six years since the president first met Putin at a castle in Slovenia. That's when he famously said he'd look into Putin's eyes and gotten a sense of his soul. Today, the president describes their relationship as complex. When asked if this meeting today could be tense, the president's response: could be.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, at the G-8 summit.
MONTAGNE: NPR correspondents take you behind the scenes of President Bush's G-8 trip at npr.org.
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