Presidents Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush's final meeting was a commemoration of their personal ties but couldn't paper over entrenched differences on US missile defense plans for central Europe and the role of NATO.
Both Bush and Putin will have left their presidential offices by mid-January
President Vladimir Putin said Sunday, April 6, that Russia was not prepared to drop its objections to US plans to deploy a missile defense system in Europe despite recent US concessions, news agency Interfax reported.
"Our fundamental attitudes to the American plan have not changed," Putin said in a press conference after his last tete-a-tete meeting with his US counterpart George W. Bush.
Putin, however, acknowledged US efforts to "resolve the issues" and "offer a set of confidence-building measures." The United States and Russia are also interested in creating a system against potential missile threats, the leaders said in a joint statement.
"Both sides expressed their interest in creating a system for responding to potential missile threats in which Russia and the United States and Europe will participate as equal partners," the declaration said.
Beyond the US missile shield plans, negotiations touched on a range of disagreements that have built up during the two leaders' eight years in power, including NATO expansion and arms treaties.
Bush meets next Russian president
Bush once said he saw into Putin's soul
Bush also held his first talks with Putin's successor Dmitry Medvedev, highlighting both sides' attention to managing relations during the transition period.
Medvedev has told President Bush he hopes to follow in the footsteps of Vladimir Putin in attempting to strengthen relations with the US.
Medvedev said Bush and Putin "did a lot to advance U.S.-Russian relations" over the last eight years. He also said maintaining good Russian-US relations was "a key factor in international security."
Medvedev added, "I would like to do my part to keep up that work."
Both Bush and Putin have underscored warm personal ties, deflecting from a growing number of testy security issues as they compete for influence in Europe. Bush said he had grown to respect Putin as a strong leader.
"You're not afraid to tell me what's on your mind," Bush said to the Kremlin leader. "When all is said and done, we'll shake hands."
Week of disagreement
Medvedev said he'd continue down the path Putin has laid out
The Sochi meeting comes on the heels of a face-off at this week's NATO summit where Kremlin fears that NATO's eastward expansion threatens its security were seen to have trumped US desires to see Georgia and Ukraine join NATO.
But the United States won NATO's full backing for its plans to deploy a missile defense system in eastern Europe, an eventuality the Kremlin finds even more threatening. The plans call for setting up a radar base in the Czech Republic and stationing interceptor missiles in Poland.
Washington says the system is not aimed at Russia, but needed to protect against "rogue states" such as Iran.
"We have a lot more work to do to convince our allies that the system is not aimed at Russia," Bush told journalists after his one and half hour talks with the Russian president.
Much work remains for successors
"We're going to have to do more work after Sochi," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters on the flight to Sochi.
"No one has said that everything would be finalized and everyone would be satisfied," she added.
Rather, officials on both sides said the "strategic framework" agreement would constitute a broad roadmap to guide future US-Russian relations.