U.S., Russia hope to narrow gap

BRDO PRI KRANJU (SLOVENIA), JUNE 16. The U.S. President, Mr. George W. Bush, and his Russian counterpart, Mr. Vladimir Putin, shared a warm first greeting on Saturday, then sat down to discuss face to face the U.S. missile defence proposal that has created a chill between their countries.

The two leaders walked together onto a square slate terrace at Brdo Castle, a 16th century manor on an estate dotted with lakes and tended lawns in Brdo Pri Kranju, located about 30 km outside the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana. They shook hands, and Mr. Putin clasped Mr. Bush's hand with both of his. Mr. Putin said Mr. Bush made a ``good first impression'' a day earlier with a speech in Warsaw, Poland, in which Mr. Bush said Russia was not an enemy. ``That's a very good foundation on which to proceed,'' Mr. Putin said. That speech, he added, ``prompts optimism.'' ``I've been looking forward to this for a long period of time,'' Mr. Bush said. ``I think we'll find we have a lot in common.'' During a photo session, the two men talked intently, leaning in toward each other from their straight-backed wooden chairs, their foreheads nearly touching. Aides to Mr. Bush said they expected no breakthrough agreement during the summit, which was scheduled to last a little more than two hours. High on the agenda was the issue that most sharply divides Washington and Moscow - the President's plan to ``set aside'' the 29-year-old ban on national missile defences and erect a shield against missile attacks.

Mr. Bush arrived in this Alpine republic ahead of Mr. Putin. He and first Lady Laura Bush were greeted at the airport by the Slovenian President, Mr. Milan Kucan, the Prime Minister, Mr. Janez Drnovsek, and a military honour guard. Mr. Kucan greeted Mr. Putin similarly when he arrived half an hour later. Shortly before Mr. Bush's arrival, 22 environmental activists were arrested. Some of the protesters jumped a fence surrounding the U.S. embassy compound in Ljubljana. Others chained themselves together outside the compound, holding a banner that read ``Stop Star Wars.'' Those detained were from Austria, Slovakia, Britain, the Czech Republic and Spain, according to a police spokesman.

Russia asserts that Mr. Bush's approach to defence would ignite a new arms race, although it has expressed a willingness to explore the question of what, if any, changes should be made to current arms-control regimes.

In an effort to normalise the relationship, Mr. Bush hopes to begin consultations among American Cabinet Secretaries and Russian Ministers on security and economic issues, U.S. officials said.

At the same time, he wants to disband a high-level panel, run by then-U.S. Vice-President, Mr. Al Gore and the then-Russian Prime Minister, Mr. Viktor Chernomyrdin, that oversaw major U.S.- Russian issues.

In Moscow on Friday, Mr. Putin spoke optimistically of the talks. The summit could ``start the process of working out single approaches to the definition of a future architecture of international security,'' he said. Capping a week of talks with European allies on a wide range of topics, from the environment to missile defence, Mr. Bush was presenting Mr. Putin his argument for a new approach to global security, one that would discard the long-accepted notion of ensuring peace by threatening the use of nuclear weapons.

Mr. Bush and aides emphasised throughout the week that he is determined to convince allies and Russia that the 1972 Anti- Ballistic Missile treaty is a relic of the Cold War. ``It's the wrong foundation for a new relationship with Russia,'' Ms Condoleezza Rice, Mr. Bush's National Security Adviser, said. She said Mr. Bush would stress this in his talks with Mr. Putin, a former KGB official, and ask for Russian ideas on a ``strategic framework'' to replace the ABM treaty.