U.S.-Russia leaders to discuss a lot at Kennebunkport summit

The issues that have soured relations between Moscow and Washington are due to be discussed at a meeting between the two countries’ leaders which is to start in approximately an hour's time in the George W. Bush family compound, in Kennebunkport.

Kennebunkport, a small resort in the state of Maine, is one of the most expensive holiday spots on the east coast of the U.S.  It is also the sumer retreat of George Bush Senior.  But for the next two days it will be the venue for important talks between his son George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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 at the Kennebunkport treatment. Residents of the seaside resort are used to world leaders riding into town.

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.

But whether there will be some sort of breakthrough on any of these issues is still unclear.


“I don’t think you can have a major breakthrough, I think discussions are good to clear the air, understand each other’s points of view on Kosovo and other parts of the world, situations that are happening, North Korea, and then analyse and say ”ok, how can we work together?  We have to keep our own interests of our own countries,"
says Allan Swenson, former military intelligence officer.

The two Presidents certainly have a lot to discuss. Moscow no longer hesitates in challenging the U.S. on the world arena.

With oil revenue continuing to fuel Russia’s economy, its foreign policy is becoming more and more independent.

And the White House also has plenty to reproach the Kremlin with. In fact, there are enough points of contention between the two sides that some in the media have declared the Cold War is back.
 
Defence is expected to crown this summit’s agenda.

U.S. plans to deploy an anti-missile defence system in Eastern Europe, despite Russia’s persistent objections, and Moscow’s intention to withdraw from the CFE (Conventional Forces in Europe) agreement, highlight the growing distrust between the two countries in the sphere of military security.

Russian analysts dismiss Washington’s claims that the ABM (Anti-ballistic missile) system proposed for Eastern Europe is only directed against the so-called rogue states of Iran and North Korea.

“It’s not about North Korea, efinitely not. It is about ”star wars“. And in the last 20 years there hasn’t been a single argument put forward about the ”star wars“ programme that Russia has liked. It can only stimulate the arms race and destabilise the international situation,” said Vyacheslav Nikonov, analyst.

Putin’s proposal to jointly use Russia's early-warning radar in Azerbaijan as a confidence-building measure is likely to be repeated in Kennebunkport.  Moscow sees this offer as a test of Washington’s true ABM intentions.

“The system we can create together won’t only cover a part of Europe, but the entire continent. This will allow us to completely exclude the risk of intercepted missile parts falling on Europe. They’d all land in the sea or the ocean,” stressed Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin is saying America’s dominance in world security affairs has led to a number of crises.  

Meanwhile, 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.