Kremlin welcomes Bush decision to visit Russia after NATO summit

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Moscow, Mar 27 (UNI) The Kremlin today said it welcomes the US president's decision to visit Russia for talks on missile defence plans for Europe and other strategic issues after next month's NATO summit in Romania.

US president George W Bush told reporters in Washington yesterday that he had accepted Vladimir Putin's invitation to visit his holiday residence in Sochi on the Black Sea on April 6 ''to discuss the strategic agreement, a crucial part of which is missile defence''.

Mr Putin's foreign policy adviser, Sergei Prikhodko, said, ''We are satisfied that President Bush accepted the invitation issued earlier by President Putin to hold a working summit in Sochi and discuss a wide range of issues.'' Mr Bush told RIA Novosti, ''We're optimistic we can reach an accord on some very important matters.'' Washington's plans to deploy a missile base in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic, which it says are designed to counter potential threats from Iran and other 'rogue' states, have sparked an ongoing dispute with Moscow, which sees the plans as a direct threat to its security.

The missile plans coupled with NATO's ongoing expansion have triggered confrontational rhetoric from Russia. However, the country appeared to soften its stance after a recent visit by Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who brought proposals to ease Russian concerns.

A Russian delegation is currently in Washington continuing discussions on the issue.

The US president's visit will take place after the April 2-4 NATO summit in Romania. Putin is to attend the NATO-Russia Council meeting on the sidelines of the event.

Mr Putin is to step down as president in May to give way to his longtime ally, Dmitry Medvedev, who won a landslide victory in the March 2 presidential polls. The current Russian president is expected to take on the role of prime minister.

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