New missile defence initiatives raised in Kennebunkport

A two-day meeting between the U.S. and Russian leaders has finished. The countries’ presidents met at the Bush family home in Kennebunkport, Maine. They discussed U.S. plans for missile defences in Eastern Europe, Iran's nuclear programme and the status o

Both sides have stressed the informal nature of the meeting, and have played down expectations of breakthroughs on difficult questions.

On his arrival, President Putin was greeted by senior members of the Bush family.  George Bush Senior, President George W. Bush, his wife Laura and mother Barbara were all there to welcome Mr Putin in what appeared to a relaxed atmosphere.

Soon afterwards, President Putin and the Bush family had dinner. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov described it as a very friendly occasion.

“It was a very informal dinner, a family meal.  It was clear that the Presidents, as well as others who were present, wanted to discuss as much as possible. The conversation was friendly and cordial,” said Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister.

Meanwhile, very serious issues are going to be on the table – including U.S. plans to deploy an anti-missile defence shield in Europe, which has been straining U.S.-Russia relations in recent months, the status of Kosovo, something that the U.S. and Russia very much disagree on, and other international issues like Iran's and North Korea’s nuclear programmes as well as Middle East peace process.

President Putin joins a long list of dignitaries, including Yitzhak Rabin, Britain’s John Major and Jordan's King Hussein, who have been invited to experience what is known as the Kennebunkport treatment.

From Russian flags festooning buildings to restaurant menus that have been translated into Russian, this weekend's visit by the Russian President is being viewed as one of the most important for many years.

The two Presidents certainly have a lot to discuss, but no groundbreaking decisions are expected.

“It is a very big debate, I mean when leaders get along, it cannot change politics and cannot make you compromise. It usually doesn’t work, we see it over and over again, because Russia has national interests, it will stick to those interests. States don’t do each other favours. But what both leaders could do is to help each other out in getting their agenda to cross even if those are very different, and say – look, we have to find a new mechanism, confidence-building, where both of us can win. We want a win-win situation here,” says RT political commentator Peter Lavelle.

“When Putin comes for a visit that gives George Bush a brilliant opportunity to say: Look, despite the nightmare in Iraq, despite the mess in Afghanistan, we still have business as usual with Russia.  So in that sense I think he is kind of helping his party’s chances in next year’s Congressional and presidential elections.  So I think this is a visit with far-reaching consequences,” stated Viktor Linnik, political analyst and Editor in Chief of the Slovo weekly newspaper.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the International Affairs Committee at the Russian State Duma, Konstantin Kosachev, believes the meeting in Kennebunkport is more than just a “lobster summit”.

I don’t believe it will be a lobster summit. I hope it will give a positive constructive result. What both presidents should be concerned with is ensuring continuity in our relations when both men leave their posts. I don’t expect any surprises from President Putin’s successors.  I’m sure that continuity will be preserved in Russian foreign policy towards the U.S. and elsewhere. But the situation in the U.S. is completely different.  Whether a Republican or a Democrat wins, it will definitely mean great changes in the U.S’s foreign policy, because the current one is far from being successful. We should understand that in our bilateral relations, continuity will be kept, and this is what Mr Putin and Mr Bush should agree upon and I hope they will do so.     

The legacy of both presidents has largely been confined to the sidelines of the Kennibunkport summit.  But Mr Kosachev discussed the issue in detail with Russia Today's Al Gurnov. To watch the hole interview please follow this link.

Apart from the politics, the two leaders are expected to talk about expanding economic ties between the two countries, which are stronger than many seem to think.

Speaking about U.S.-Russia relations ahead of the summit, Andrey Zagorsky, a political analyst from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, said that we can look forward to the signing of at least two agreements.

To read full version of RT interview with Andrey Zagorsky please follow this link.

Ahead of his trip to the U.S., President Putin met with leading Russian Olympians. The President is going to the final meeting of the International Olympic Committee in Guatemala after his visit to the U.S.

Speaking about his upcoming meeting with U.S. President Bush, Putin said he hopes for fair-play in politics, just like in sports.

“Almost always in the sphere of politics, like in sports, competition is in progress. What I mean is that this competition should obey definite rules and have respect for each other’s interests. I hope dialogue with a person with whom I have established during recent years very good, even friendly relations, will be precisely of that nature. Otherwise I wouldn’t go there, nor receive the invitation,” said Vladimir Putin.

As the Presidents met, several hundred protesters gathered in Kennebunkport to speak out against the war in Iraq and Russia's human rights record in Chechnya.

“We are here to say now is the time to impeach this President to save our country,” said Deborah Gordon, protest organiser.

But it did not stop at the war in Iraq. Protesters also took aim at the loss of civil liberties under the Bush adminstration as well as venting their anger at the plight of prisoners still being
held at Guantanamo Bay.

“The fact is, we are becoming the most hated country in the world, when we should be the most powerful and rich nation in the world,” said demonstrater Sot-Lois Mastrangelo.

Despite tight security, demonstrators still plan to hand-deliver their message to the two leaders staying at the Bush summer home.