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Bush says will steer clear of lecturing Putin

Written by: Staff

WASHINGTON, July 7 (Reuters) President George W. Bush, whose administration has criticized anti-democratic moves in Russia, said he hopes for candid talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week but will not lecture him.

Ahead of the mid-July summit of the Group of Eight industrialized nations that Russia is hosting in St Petersburg, Bush was asked in an interview with CNN talk show host Larry King if he still had a strong rapport with Putin.

''I do like him,'' Bush said. ''I don't necessarily agree with every decision he's made about what's happening inside of Russia, but it's very important for me to keep a good personal relationship with him so I can have good, candid discussions.'' ''But nobody either wants to be lectured by somebody. Nobody either likes to be scolded publicly,'' Bush added.'' Five years ago, Bush famously said in his first meeting with Putin that he had gotten a ''sense of his soul'', but their relationship is widely seen as having cooled since then.

Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have accused Putin of restricting freedoms and using Russia's vast energy resources to bully its neighbors.

US officials who spoke to reporters yesterday on condition of anonymity said that while Russia had made significant democratic reforms since the fall of communism, Washington was worried about recent trends.

They said it was a ''good bet'' that ''our concerns about backsliding on democracy'' will be on the agenda when Bush meets Putin. Bush and Putin will dine together on July 14 and hold bilateral talks the next day before the summit opens.

''Over the past couple of years, we have been concerned about the concentration of powers in the Kremlin, about the diminishing of space for public debate, the narrowing of the debate in the press,'' one official said. ''We want to gain reassurance that Russia is indeed committed to democracy.'' Another US official said Russia's record on democracy was also likely to come up for discussion among G-20 leaders.

Differences over gas supplies to Europe, Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization and competition for allies in the former Soviet Union have strained relations recently.

Cheney chided Russia in May for its record on democracy and accused it of using energy supplies as a tool of ''blackmail and intimidation,'' sparking an angry reaction from Moscow.

A US official said the administration hoped the G-20's final statement on energy would ''reflect our orientation about the importance of transparency, open and competitive markets, an open investment environment.'' Putin also sought to play down chilly relations with Washington, saying yesterday that Bush remained a ''decent'' friend and the United States one of Russia's most important partners.


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