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Published: Sunday, 7/8/2007

Bush, Putin loosen up

THE harvest of the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin with President Bush at his parents' compound at Kennebunkport, Maine will have to be measured in the future atmosphere of international relations.

The immediate results did not seem to amount to much, although it is always hard to say what took place in private between two major leaders. The United States and Russia have to get along with each other, although U.S. understanding of that fact is called into question by the Bush Administration's insistence on developing a national missile defense system, with installations in the Czech Republic and Poland, both on Russia's doorstep.

Russia thinks the system is directed against it and once again, during the Kennebunkport visit, Mr. Putin attempted to call the United States' bluff that the system is directed against rogue state missiles with a new offer.

He proposed, in addition to a substitute station in Azerbaijan, that an additional site in southern Russia and information exchange sites in Brussels and Moscow be placed under the aegis of the post-9/11 NATO-Russia Council.

Mr. Bush's attachment to the missile defense system is influenced by the dozens of U.S. contractors and subcontractors that will profit from its construction. Other important subjects of U.S.-Russian cooperation that were on the table at Kennebunkport included further sanctions against Iran based on its nuclear enrichment program. Given Russia's involvement on that subject in Iran, it is unlikely that movement occurred.

The future of Kosovo and the need for oil are other key issues between the two countries. The Russians might be prepared to make concessions on Kosovo, but the competition for oil is a different matter. Russia may be looking to take advantage of the possible departure of two U.S. companies from operations in Venezuela and an arms deal with that country to improve its situation in that offshore production opportunity.

For Mr. Putin, the two days with both Bush presidents in a unique U.S. setting should have given him a boost. He caught a fish - a striped bass. The Bushes caught none, perhaps out of politeness. They also gave him a Segway personal transporter to ride around the Kremlin.

The Russian president may have enhanced his prestige with his time in Maine, before heading to Guatemala for a meeting with the International Olympic Committee, which has awarded Russia the chance to host the 2014 Winter Games.

As for President Bush, time will tell what he got from the meeting.

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