U.S.-Russian issues may be resolved
MOSCOW -- Russian President Vladimir Putin, departing from his recent practice of caustically lecturing senior U.S. officials, warmly greeted the top two American foreign policy officials Monday and told them that some ongoing differences between the two countries might be resolved soon.
Putin's comments came ahead of his meeting in Moscow with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who also spent an hour Monday with Putin's successor, President-elect Dmitry Medvedev, who takes office in May.
Rice and Gates are scheduled to meet with their Russian counterparts today.
Putin also disclosed that he received a letter from President Bush ahead of the meeting.
U.S. officials described the letter, sent last week, as an attempt by Bush to gauge whether Putin is interested in holding substantive talks, suggesting that Bush would send Rice and Gates to Moscow only if the Russian government was willing to offer concrete responses to recent American proposals.
Missile defense: Gates said he believes that the Kremlin is interested in seriously considering a U.S. proposal to link Russian missile defenses into the proposed U.S. system. The Bush administration says the system, which would be built in Poland and the Czech Republic, is needed to guard Europe against potential missile strikes from Iran. The Kremlin argues that the defense could be used against Russian ballistic rockets, reducing the weapons' value as a deterrent against attack.
Nuclear cooperation, WTO: Rice told reporters that agreements Putin said he anticipated would probably be in areas such as civilian nuclear cooperation and Russian ascension to the World Trade Organization.
Putin: "We believe that in some of these issues we can probably dot the i's and reach final agreement."
Gates: "I frankly was surprised at the relatively positive tone of the meetings. And I think we have some opportunities here."
Despite the upbeat tenor of the meeting, neither side expressed much hope of substantive progress on the missile-defense program.