Friday, September 16, 2005

Bush to Pressure Putin on Iran

Neil King Jr. and Greg White, The Wall Street Journal:
U.S. President George W. Bush hopes to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to toughen his stance on Iran, to further open his country's oil and gas reserves to foreign investment and to take steps to speed Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization, when the two men meet at the White House.

Bush administration officials, in previewing Friday's one-day summit, described relations between Washington and Moscow these days as a mix of cooperation and tension, along with a dollop of indifference on the Russian side.

Much has changed from two years ago, when Mr. Bush used a Camp David gathering to praise Mr. Putin's Russia as "a country in which democracy and freedom and the rule of law thrive." Since then, the Kremlin has rolled back democratic institutions, used the tax and court systems to partially nationalize the country's largest oil company and jail its billionaire owner, meddled clumsily in the politics of its neighbors and cooperated with China in efforts to reduce U.S. influence in the strategic region of Central Asia.

Despite these setbacks, President Bush still puts much stock in his rapport with Mr. Putin, with whom he has met nearly 20 times.

The first item on today's agenda, U.S. officials say, will be to urge Mr. Putin to look more favorably on European and U.S. efforts to persuade Iran to give up its alleged nuclear-weapons ambitions. READ MORE

The U.S., along with Britain, France and Germany, are threatening to take Iran to the United Nations Security Council unless it agrees to rules to prevent its civilian nuclear program from being used for military aims. But Russia and China, both of which have veto power within the council, oppose that idea. "This will be a major issue" in the summit talks, said one senior administration official.

Mr. Bush will also try to get a feel from President Putin on what transpired in his private talks at the U.N. on Wednesday with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the official said.

On the energy front, the White House is pleased by what appears to be increased activity among Russian oil and gas companies to move more aggressively on new exploration and pipeline projects, including some with Western partners.

"I've noticed a definite change in the Russians' attitude toward our energy relationship" in the past few months, said one U.S. diplomat.

State gas titan OAO Gazprom was expected to announce on Friday its short list of foreign partners on a long-awaited liquefied-natural-gas project that would target the U.S. market. And Russia appears to be moving ahead with plans to build a new pipeline that would carry oil to the country's arctic coast, putting it within tanker range of U.S. ports.

Bush officials say that on the trade front, both sides must resolve a number of prickly issues within U.S.-Russian negotiations on Russian WTO membership, which could happen sometime next year. The toughest problems revolve around Russian rules on energy services, bank subsidiaries, aviation and intellectual-property protections. The U.S. still hopes to wrap up the trade talks by the end of the year.

Some of the trickiest talk could focus on Moscow's influence over former Soviet republics, which Russia views as its turf. After popular revolutions brought pro-Western leaders to power in Georgia and Ukraine in the past two years, the Bush administration has come to see the region as a testing ground for its new focus on democratization around the world.

The U.S. also has begun to look with some alarm on the growing ties between Moscow and Beijing. China and Russia held joint military maneuvers last month.

Write to Neil King Jr. at and Greg White at