En route to a June 1-3 Group of Eight summit in Evian, France, President George W. Bush traveled to St. Petersburg to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The meeting marked the first encounter between the two leaders since they split over how to disarm Iraq, chilling the warming relationship both had strived to forge.
Bush and Putin were expected to exchange views on Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and the war on terrorism. The UN Security Council’s May 22 vote to lift sanctions on Iraq diminished one potentially nettlesome issue.
Bush’s visit was to be crowned with an exchange of instruments of ratification for the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), which the Russian Duma approved May 14, during a preparatory visit by Secretary of State Colin Powell. The Federation Council, the upper chamber of Russia’s parliament, passed the treaty May 28, clearing the way for the presidents to bring the treaty into force. The U.S. Senate unanimously endorsed the ratification of the agreement March 6. (See ACT, April 2003.)
Missile defense has also emerged as a possible topic at the meeting. Over the past several months, Russian officials and press reports have indicated that Moscow would like some type of political agreement or joint declaration on missile defense, and Russia said several months ago that it had sent a draft text to Washington. In a May 14 interview, a State Department official said that Moscow appears to want an umbrella agreement to permit U.S. and Russian companies to work together on missile defense projects.
Russia’s interest in missile defense cooperation remains largely confined to defenses against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. Moscow continues to express concern about the U.S. plan to build a multilayered defense against long-range ballistic missiles and strongly opposes the possibility of U.S. space-based defenses.
The United States has publicly disclosed plans to put three to five armed satellites in space by as early as 2008 to test whether such a defense is feasible. Russia has joined China in pressing for a treaty to be negotiated at the UN Conference on Disarmament barring any type of weapon from being placed in space.