- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 7, 2007

ROSTOCK, Germany — President Bush yesterday sought to tone down the fiery rhetoric in his weeklong dispute with Russian President Vladimir Putin over a proposed U.S. missile shield in Eastern Europe, saying, “Russia is not an enemy.”

Arriving in Germany for the annual Group of Eight summit — and with a private meeting with Mr. Putin planned for today — the president pulled back from a game of brinksmanship that had prompted Moscow to threaten to aim missiles at Europe.

“Russia is not going to attack Europe,” Mr. Bush told reporters at the Baltic Sea resort town of Heiligendamm, where the leaders are meeting. “There needs to be no military response because we’re not at war with Russia. … Russia is not a threat. Nor is the missile defense we’re proposing a threat to Russia.”

Mr. Putin has ratcheted up rhetoric for a week, saying the U.S. plan to install 10 missiles in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic is tantamount to returning to the Cold War. He threatened to aim his own multiwarhead missiles — capable of penetrating the shield — if the United States does not abandon its plan.

Mr. Bush said Russia’s missile capability is vastly superior to the shield, and he offered to open up its installation to officials from Russia.

“A missile-defense system that is deployed in Europe can handle one or two rocket launchers. It can’t handle a multiple launch regime. Russia has got an inventory that could overpower any missile-defense system,” he said.

In addition, he said if the Russian leader thinks that the missile-defense system is a threat to his nation, the United States would ease his fears.

“There’s all kinds of ways you can do that. One is total transparency between our militaries and scientists — military people and scientists, which I’m more than happy to do.”

As he has said many times before, Mr. Bush said the real object of the shield is “aimed at a country like Iran, if they ended up with a nuclear weapon, so that they couldn’t blackmail the free world.”

And he said the United States simply cannot wait for Iran to construct a nuclear weapon, which the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said last month could come in as little as three years.

“I would argue that it’s best to anticipate what might happen and work to see that it doesn’t happen, as opposed to not be prepared if it does happen. I mean, if somebody pops up with a weapon and says, hands up, people will say, ‘Well, how come we didn’t have a shield?’ And so it’s — I think we need to do both. I think we need to protect ourselves of what might happen, and then work collaboratively to make sure it doesn’t happen,” the president said.

But Putin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said yesterday that Mr. Bush has failed to make a persuasive case for deployment of missiles in Eastern Europe, which he said would upset the balance of power on the Continent. He dismissed the president’s contention that the United States cannot wait and Mr. Bush’s assertion that he is simply protecting U.S. allies in Europe from an Iranian missile.

Mr. Peskov sought to pull back Mr. Putin’s threat to target missiles at Europe, saying the statement was hypothetical and was just one of the options that Russia is considering.

“It was not some kind of threatening statement on the part of Mr. Putin. He was just asked by a journalist if he would be ready, hypothetically to consider re-targeting … and he confirmed that that would be one of the ways Russia could respond,” he said.

Still, the souring relationship of the two leaders — which began when Mr. Bush said he had looked into the soul of the former KGB man and seen a man he could deal with — has drawn all eyes toward their bilateral meeting today. The once-hot issue of climate change has faded into the background, and other leaders at the summit — including Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair — have waded into the fray.

The summit brings together leaders from eight leading industrialized countries — U.S., Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia — as well as officials from China, India, Mexico, Brazil and South Africa.

On another major world issue, Mr. Bush stood firm during a bilateral meeting with the summit’s host, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on the U.S. refusal to have the meeting endorse her plan to limit the global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

Mr. Bush reiterated his opposition, stated earlier this week, forcing the German chancellor to back down and pursue more modest goals on greenhouse gases that all eight nations could support. The U.S. leader offered instead to discuss a post-Kyoto pact in the context of an upcoming U.N. conference in Indonesia.

Jim Connaughton, chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality, said all the biggest-emitting nations had to be involved in any deal, although such developing countries as China and India have said they will not cut their own carbon-dioxide emissions.

Meanwhile in Moscow yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said his nation will not quit a key arms-control pact next week at a conference in Vienna, Austria.

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