A joint statement issued by the United States and Russia following a meeting of U.S. and Russian Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in Bratislava Thursday said the countries are "committed to working together to complete our bilateral negotiation for Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization in 2005."
The two leaders said they had instructed their trade ministers to accelerate bilateral WTO negotiations. "We will work to identify areas for progress in our bilateral negotiations that will give momentum to Russia's accession to the WTO," they said.
They also agreed to enhance their joint efforts to counter the threat of nuclear terrorism by safeguarding atomic facilities and preparing emergency response capabilities. The two sides said they agreed that security at nuclear facilities needs to be "constantly enhanced" to thwart terrorists.
The accord between Washington and Moscow came days after a US intelligence report said theft of radioactive materials from Russian nuclear facilities "has occurred."
The tightly guarded meeting, at Bratislava Castle, in Slovakia, opened with tensions over autocratic reforms in Russia and Moscow's nuclear cooperation with Iran topping the agenda.
But even before Bush and Putin crossed the threshold of the castle for their meeting, the two sides announced a deal on curbing the spread of shoulder-fired missiles that terrorists could use to shoot down airplanes.
The world leaders seemed to be trying to inject fresh warmth to their once excellent personal relationship, which has cooled since the Iraq war and led to concerns that the former Cold War foes may again be turning into rivals.
Ahead of their talks, which were due to last at least 90 minutes, Bush gave his strongest endorsement yet of European efforts to convince Iran not to develop nuclear weapons and said he hoped for a peaceful end to the dispute.
"Hopefully we'll be able to reach a diplomatic solution to this effort. We're more likely to do so when we're all on the same page," said Bush, who in the past has stressed that he cannot rule out using force against Tehran.
Disagreements growing vocal
Bush's talk with Putin was their first in person since an Asia-Pacific summit in Chile last November, when the US leader privately questioned his counterpart on moves that were widely seen as setting back democracy in Russia.
Their disagreements, muted over the past three years by the war on terrorism, have grown more vocal since Bush placed a renewed emphasis in his second term on promoting democracy and confronting Iran and Syria.
Bush began his day by meeting with Slovakia's President Ivan Gasparovic and Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, before making an emotionally charged speech to thousands of cheering Slovak citizens in a town square.
Bush vowed to stand with Slovakia's young democracy and hailed what he called a "purple revolution" in Iraq, where ink of that color was used to mark those who voted in January 30 elections.
Pressure over Iran expected
He likened that vote to the Velvet Revolution that broke the hold of communism here nearly 16 years ago, saying: "To the Iraqi people, this is their 1989, and they will always remember who stood with them in their quest for freedom."
Bush also predicted Thursday that former Soviet republics Moldova and Belarus would embrace democracy, and saluted NATO's eastward expansion -- all sources of concern in Moscow.
Bush was expected to press Putin on Iran, which Washington accuses of trying to acquire nuclear weapons, and on Syria, which Washington insists must withdraw all of its troops and "secret services" from Lebanon.
Putin recently agreed to sell missile systems to Syria, while declaring there is "no evidence" that Iran is seeking an atomic bomb and has stepped up Russian cooperation with Tehran on nuclear technology.