Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived in the United States for an informal, but crucial, summit with President George Bush. The atmosphere appeared convivial enough on his arrival at the Bush family seaside home in Kennebunkport, Maine, and Bush Presidents, new and old, gathered to welcome him.
But this promises to be a challenging meeting after months of escalating tension. US-Russian relations are rumoured to be at their lowest level in almost 20 years. Apart from arguments over independence for Kosovo, and Russia’s increasingly authoritarian stance, the main thorn in the relationship remains American plans for a missile defence shield in Europe.
But Putin surprised Washington at the recent G8 meeting by offering a compromise option on the shield. He suggested the United States use a former soviet radar station in Gabala, Azerbaijan, rather than sitting one in Poland or the Czech Republic. Gabala is just 200 kilometres from Iran. It boasts one of the biggest radars in the world and the proposal will certainly be a talking point in Kennebunkport.