New York Times: President Bush, seeking to change the tone of an increasingly caustic, fraught relationship with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, will urge him on Sunday to support a major escalation of pressure on Iran, administration officials said. The New York Times
By JIM RUTENBERG and DAVID E. SANGER
Published: July 1, 2007
KENNEBUNKPORT, Me., June 30 President Bush, seeking to change the tone of an increasingly caustic, fraught relationship with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, will urge him on Sunday to support a major escalation of pressure on Iran, administration officials said.
On Friday, just 48 hours before Mr. Putin was to arrive at the Bush family compound on the edge of this historic seaside town swelled with summer residents, the administration discussed for the first time with Russia and other members of the United Nations Security Council a proposal to require all nations to inspect cargo to or from Iran for illicit nuclear-related material or arms.
The meeting took place by telephone, and the United States was represented by R. Nicholas Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs. The proposal was cast as preventive, but American officials know that, like a proposed asset freeze on some Iranian banks, the effect could be to slow Irans economy.
Two successive resolutions have resulted in less punitive actions against Iran, with modest economic effect. None has achieved the goal of forcing the country to suspend its enrichment of uranium.
While Mr. Bush is not expected to discuss the specifics of the American plan with Mr. Putin, a senior official, who would not speak for attribution because the conversations with Mr. Putin have yet to take place and will be surrounded in secrecy, said Mr. Bush was increasingly intent on stopping the Iranian nuclear program. The International Atomic Energy Agency says it is progressing.
He will make the point that this is the third set of sanctions against Iran, and now we have to make them really count, the official said.
For the Americans, the effort to squeeze Iran is the most immediate issue on the table with Mr. Putin. Washington needs Russias support as it presses the Security Council to pass new sanctions, the third round this year, by mid-July.
But it is uncertain how Mr. Putin will react. He has sharply criticized the proposed new American missile defense system, which would include installations in Poland and the Czech Republic, former Soviet satellites, and made inflammatory characterizations of the United States as an unrestrained power.
American officials say he may be aiming those comments at a domestic audience and seeking to cement an influential role in Russian affairs after he leaves office in the spring.
Some proposals by Britain, which leaked out before Gordon Brown succeeded Tony Blair as prime minister on Wednesday, would deny Iranian airlines and ships permission to take off from, land in, or fly over the territory of other nations. A measure that harsh bears little chance of passage.
Mr. Bush has told aides he has doubts about how willing Mr. Putin would be to put his countrys trade with Iran at risk. Russia supplies much of the equipment and expertise for Irans main civilian nuclear reactor, and has other ties with Iran, including in the oil sector.
We imagine that the Russians and the Chinese are going to play slowball here, said a senior official involved in the sanctions talks. They dont want Iran to get nukes, but they worry what happens if the diplomacy here does not work.
White House officials have portrayed Mr. Putins visit with Mr. Bush as a chance to rebuild their relationship. It now holds little of the warmth displayed after their first meeting in early 2001, when Mr. Bush said he had looked the man in the eye and gained a sense of his soul.
In fact, it may be the last chance for Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin to cement a common legacy, with Mr. Bush entering the last 19 months of his term and Russia preparing to choose Mr. Putins successor.
The agenda for the visit includes social encounters with the former president George H. W. Bush, including a dinner and possibly some fishing. American officials said that Mr. Putin would probably seek to avoid any public disagreements.
The American plan for a missile defense plan in Europe, which it says is largely to deter Irans growing missile forces, will certainly be under discussion here.
Speaking with reporters on Friday, Dmitri Peskov, a Putin spokesman, said the Russians were dissatisfied with the United States continued interest in building the system.
Mr. Peskov said a surprise Russian proposal to cooperate on a similar system in Azerbaijan two weeks ago was meant as an alternative to American plan, not, as Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has suggested, a potential complement to it.
He portrayed the Russian plan as polite acquiescence with the overheated and questionable fears the United States has expressed over Irans nuclear capabilities.
But American officials dismissed that, and said there was in fact a coming together of American and Russian views on Iran.
A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity before the meetings, said Russia was coming to agree with the United States assessment of Iran.
I do think we see the threat very much the same, the official said. Its why weve been able to cooperate very well in terms of the nuclear issue, why weve had their support for two U.N. Security Council resolutions. I think when the time comes well have their support for a third.
Technical experts for both sides have quietly moved forward in seeking a compromise on the defense system, according to senior Defense Department officials.
Lt. Gen. Henry A. Obering III, director of the Missile Defense Agency, and senior aides held an unannounced meeting on Friday with Russian counterparts to begin preliminary technical discussions that included the Azerbaijani radar, according to an agency official.
Officials at the White House and at the Kremlin played down expectations of any breakthrough agreements on Iran or the defense system during Mr. Putins stay. Both sides said they considered it an unofficial visit, not a summit meeting.
Administration officials said it was Mr. Putin who had initially suggested the timing to meet in the United States, since he was heading to an Olympics committee meeting set in Guatemala. Mr. Bush decided upon his family compound here. Both sides portrayed that as a show of respect for Mr. Putin.
Thom Shanker contributed reporting from Washington.