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Putin joins NATO summit talks

BUCHAREST, Romania (CNN) — Russian President Vladimir Putin met NATO leaders Friday amid fresh tensions between Moscow and Washington over the future expansion of the military alliance and U.S. moves to install missile defense bases in eastern Europe.

Speaking after the meeting with Putin, NATO Secretary-General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer said the atmosphere of the talks had been constructive and frank and open, The Associated Press reported.

But he added: It is true that NATO enlargement is a contentious issue. The minds do not exactly meet, to put it mildly.

On Thursday, NATO members decided not to allow the former Soviet states of Georgia and Ukraine to begin the process towards membership, recognizing strong objections from Moscow.

But in a nod to U.S. President George W. Bush, who had strongly made the case for the two countries to be admitted to the alliance, NATO promised Georgia and Ukraine could join at a later date. Albania and Croatia were also invited to join.

NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO, de Hoop Scheffer said on Thursday. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO.

Speaking ahead of Putin’s meeting with NATO’s 26 leaders, a senior Russian diplomat said NATO’s pledge to admit Ukraine and Georgia had soured relations between Moscow and the alliance.

A culture of searching for solutions on the basis of taking mutual interests into account has been lost, said Sergei Ryabkov, chief of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s department for European cooperation, AP reported.

Russia opposes NATO membership for former Soviet republics such as Ukraine and Georgia, concerned that the alliance’s eastward march will erode its influence in those countries.

Also on Thursday, the U.S. secured NATO backing for its plans to build a radar system in the Czech Republic to track ballistic missiles.

This agreement is an important step in our efforts to protect our nations and our NATO allies from the growing threat posed by the proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. State Department said in a statement.

The other eastern European element of the scheme — the siting of 10 interceptor missiles in Poland — has yet to be agreed between Poland and the U.S., AP reported, although talks are ongoing.

Moscow has mounted serious opposition to the scheme in recent months, although the U.S. has insisted it is designed to counter threats from the Middle East and is not an aggressive move against Russia.

Bush was due to hold further talks with the Russian leader at his holiday home in the Black Sea resort of Sochi over the weekend.

With Putin due to step down next month for Russia’s president-elect Dimitry Medvedev and Bush also coming to the end of his second term, this weekend’s meetings between the two leaders are seen as a key opportunity for the outgoing presidents to set the tone for future U.S.-Russian relations. E-mail to a friend

Copyright 2008 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

Putin joins NATO summit talks – found here.

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April 4, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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