Update below the fold.
After months of diplomatic sniping between the US and Russia, Presidents Vladimir Putin and George Bush are meeting today at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. Bush has generally invited foreign leaders to his own ranch in Texas, rather than to the Maine compound, which belongs to his father. I have yet to read a compelling explanation as to why he chose Maine over Texas other than the more pleasant summertime weather, but that’s never stopped him in the past.
There really isn’t a whole lot to say about this visit, at least so far. Both the American and the Russian press seem to expect little from the meetings between the two leaders, noting the wide differences in policy toward Iran and missile defense.
Putin arrived yesterday in time for a spin about the bay in a speedboat driven by Bush Père, followed by a fancy lobster dinner. This morning, they went fishing; Putin was the only one who caught anything. Putin will continue on to Guatemala to a meeting of the Olympic committee, in support of the Black Sea resort city of Sochi’s bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Can personal diplomacy between world leaders really make a big difference? Certainly, but I don’t think Putin is going to be swayed from his positions by a little Bush “charm”. Instead, he’s continued to try to put Bush off-balance–this time, according to the New York Times, offering yet another proposal for a jointly developed missile defense plan located in former Soviet space, in exchange for Bush abandoning plans to deploy the system in the new NATO members of eastern Europe. Unfortunately, the NYT article lacks details of what Putin actually proposed. The BBC has only slightly more, mentioning, in addition to the Gabala radar, a “site in Southern Russia”.
Update: Izvestia has more information about Putin’s specific proposals. First, he proposed the creation of an information exchange center in Moscow and an early warning station in southern Russia (still no specific location). Second, he proposed widening the discussion of missile defense to include other European countries, while noting that these countries will have to conduct elections on whether to participate in the system. This last bit is a reminder to the Bush Administration that missile defense is not actually all that popular in eastern Europe–at the beginning of April, one opinion poll showed that 57% of Poles were opposed to participating in the program. Bush, in his turn, responded to the latest proposal by calling it a “bold, interesting, new idea.”* ‘Interesting’, of course, should be translated as ‘I haven’t figured out how to politely say ‘no’ yet.’
* This is translated from the Izvestia article, so I can’t guarantee Bush’s exact English words–I haven’t been able to find a detailed English-language account yet.