Bush, Putin talk about nuclear weapons

United States President George Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin sought common ground on Thursday on keeping conventional and nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists, a positive note in talks likely to raise sensitive questions about Russia’s support of Iran and democratic rollbacks.

Both leaders entered discussions cautiously, wanting to air their grievances without undercutting generally improved relations between the old Cold War nuclear rivals who are cooperating in the war on terror.

As the leaders opened talks at a red-roofed castle overlooking the Danube River, aides inked an agreement designed to counter nuclear terrorism, in part by restricting the availability of shoulder-fired missiles capable of bringing down aircraft.

Bush was expected to press Putin to do more to promote democratic change in Russia. Bush prefaced his meeting with the Russia leader with a speech in a crowded town square, hailing the spread of democracy to former Soviet republics such as Slovakia.

High on the agenda are US concerns over Putin’s moves to solidify his power and clamp down on civil and press liberties.

Also drawing US alarm are Putin’s attempts to influence elections in Ukraine, Russian arms sales to Syria and the Kremlin’s close ties to Iran.

But Bush seeks to balance those concerns with a desire for continued cooperation on security issues such as terrorism, weapons proliferation and energy.

For their part, Russian officials dislike what they see as the US meddling in their internal affairs and in former Soviet republics where Moscow’s influence is waning as some new leaders look westward.

Putin has sent mixed signals, such as offering conciliatory talk aimed at boosting Russia’s international standing and its chances for membership in the World Trade Organisation, but at other times saying the US has double standards on terrorism and is seeking to spread a dubious form of democracy.

The two leaders arrived to a red-carpet ceremony in a courtyard at the castle. About a dozen troops, clad in fur-trimmed blue uniforms, stood at attention.
Elsewhere in the capital, security was tight. Hundreds of heavily armed police officers and sharpshooters kept watch and helicopters flew overhead.—Sapa-AP

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