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Former President Bush Meets With Putin

Sun Sep 14, 1:46 PM ET
By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV, Associated Press Writer

SOCHI, Russia - Former President George H.W. Bush met Vladimir Putin upon arriving Sunday in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, less than two weeks ahead of his son's talks with the Russian leader.

Bush and his wife, Barbara, traveled to Sochi on a plane provided by the airline that serves Putin and other Russia government figures. Putin, his black Labrador retriever nearby, greeted them on the tarmac in English, shaking Bush's hand and giving Barbara a bouquet of roses.

Putin rarely meets even high-level visitors at the airport, and Bush thanked him for his "extraordinary courtesy."

"I can tell you our president will be overcome with gratitude for the way you are treating Barbara and me," Bush said.

Dressed casually, Bush and Putin held talks at a modest presidential mansion and strolled with their wives before dinner in the large, lush garden sloping down to the sea.

Bush, who visited the White House before leaving for St. Petersburg, Russia, last week, said Sunday "our president has a great feeling not only of respect (but) of friendship for President Putin. This is not diplomatic language, this is right from the heart."

Putin returned the praise, suggesting his relationship with the younger Bush transcends politics.

"When I talk with the U.S. president, our opinions do not always coincide, but the most important thing is that we have a very good rapport, very good feelings toward each other, and trust," he said.

The warm words set a cordial tone for the summit, which comes as Russia and the United States seek to patch up relations after deep disagreement over the war in Iraq and continued debate about the postwar situation.

The Kremlin said last week that Putin and the younger Bush will meet Sept. 26 at Camp David.

The Russian news agency ITAR-Tass said the elder Bush also will meet with Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, who stepped down in 1991 as the Soviet Union collapsed during the elder Bush's presidency.

Russian news agencies quoted an unidentified Kremlin official as saying Saturday that talks in Sochi would focus on the development of Russian-U.S. relations over the past decade and opportunities presented by the upcoming summit. They also will discuss world affairs since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the official said.


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