ROSTOCK, Germany—On his first full day at the Group of Eight summit in Germany, President Bush tried Wednesday to soften the war of words with Russian President Vladimir Putin over a proposed U.S. missile defense system in Europe and to downplay differences with his G-8 partners over reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Bush stressed U.S.-Russian friendship on the eve of his Thursday one-on-one meeting with Putin. The two men are expected to discuss Putin's pique over Bush's drive to install a sophisticated radar system in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor missiles in Poland to safeguard against a nuclear attack from a rogue state such as Iran.
Putin has charged that the missile-defense system would be geared toward stopping Russian missiles and would upset the balance of forces in Europe. He threatened last weekend to aim Russian missiles at European sites if the system is built.
"Russia is not going to attack Europe," Bush told reporters at the G-8 summit in Heiligendamm. "The missile-defense system is not aimed at Russia. As a matter of fact, I believe it would be in Russia's interest to participate with us, and have made that offer and will continue to make that offer."
Bush also insisted that the dispute isn't injuring his relationship with Putin.
"It's a complicated relationship," he said, referring both to U.S.-Russia and himself and Putin. "We've had issues before. I think if you look at the history of our relationship, there's been some moments where we've agreed and moments where we've disagreed."
Some analysts, though not all, believe that the U.S.-Russia missile-defense flap illustrates that Bush has misread Putin throughout their six-year relationship. The two leaders have sparred over Moscow's backsliding on democratic reforms, Russia's use of energy supplies to intimidate its neighbors, the war in Iraq and the future of Kosovo.
Uri Ra'Anan, director of the Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology and Policy at Boston University, said Bush has overemphasized personal chemistry in dealing with Putin.
Following his first meeting with Putin in 2001, Bush famously said he looked Putin in the eye and found him to be "straightforward and trustworthy."
"I was able to get a sense of his soul—a man deeply committed to his country and the interests of his country," Bush said afterward.
It seemed like a profound line at the time, but now it comes back to haunt the White House every time Bush has a diplomatic dust-up with Putin.
"There's no question that (Bush's) advisers understand Putin," Ra'Anan said. "The problem is the president. He's intelligent, but he is naive. He actually believes that foreign policy can be done on personality and charm. Putin views that as weakness."
Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was national security adviser to former President Jimmy Carter, echoed Ra'Anan's assessment.
"It's the product of several miscalculations both by us and by the Russians," Brzezinski said on Bloomberg Television. "I think at our end we overestimated the importance of the personal relationship between Bush and Putin. It was always a little bit of fiction, pumped up so much, that it obscured some of the lingering problems in the relationship."
But Charles Kupchan, former director for European Affairs at the Council on Foreign Relations, believes that Bush and Putin did have a good personal relationship that has evolved as Russia became wealthier through oil and natural gas revenues.
"I think it's less of a question of a misreading by Bush than a gradual combination of Putin's growth in power and disgruntlement with U.S. policy. If it were just missile defense, the difficulty wouldn't be so acute. But it's NATO expansion, Kosovo, sanctions on Iran. Russia has said, `Enough, we're pushing back.'"
Bush spent his first full day here having a working lunch with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, this year's G-8 host, and meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Climate change dominated Bush's talks with Merkel. The president expressed optimism that the G-8 partners would reach an agreement on efforts to cut greenhouse gases.
"I come with a strong desire to work with you on a post-Kyoto agreement about how we can achieve major objectives," Bush said. "One, of course, is the reduction of greenhouse gases. Another is to become more energy independent—in our case, from crude oil from parts of the world where we've got friends and sometimes we don't have friends."
For her part, Merkel said she and Bush had "a very intensive and very good conversation" about climate change, "a very good debate." She said she trusted that they would "work out joint positions on that."
White House officials said they believe they're moving toward consensus with Merkel, who's made climate change the summit's signature issue. But Bush still rejects Merkel's proposals to set firm national goals to reduce greenhouse gases and lower global temperatures by two degrees in coming decades.
Still, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said Bush is moving toward his G-8 partners on climate change because all sides agree that:
_Climate change needs to be addressed.
_There's a recognized need for an agreement or framework for dealing with the climate change when the Kyoto agreement expires in 2012.
_All G-8 leaders must commit themselves to leading the design of a post-Kyoto framework.
_All the world's major polluters, including India and China, need to participate in the process.
However, Hadley said the Bush administration wouldn't agree at this G-8 summit on specific goals for reducing greenhouse gases, because non-G-8 nations such as China and India wouldn't be able to participate. He said this summit's achievement would be setting up a post-Kyoto process for future decisions by the end of 2008.
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
GRAPHICS (from MCT Graphics, 202-383-6064): BUSH G8