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Bush Backs Putin's Iran Uranium Plan

BUSAN, South Korea -- At a meeting of Pacific Rim leaders on Friday, U.S. President George W. Bush told President Vladimir Putin that the United States supported a proposal from Moscow that could deny Iran the ability to produce nuclear weapons.

"It may provide a way out," U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said of the Russian plan, which was discussed during a meeting between Bush and Putin that lasted more than an hour on the sidelines of the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Putin and Bush were among 21 leaders, including China's Hu Jintao and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who ended the summit with an indirect challenge to European countries to help revive global free-trade negotiations by cutting their hefty farm subsidies.

The leaders also addressed the threat of a possible bird flu pandemic, pledging to be open about disclosing outbreaks, boost surveillance and build a register of experts that can advise countries on combating the disease.

During their discussion on a variety of difficult topics, Bush praised Putin for several steps Russia had taken that "would reduce the proliferation risks" in Iran, and he expressed support for a Russian plan that would allow Iran to convert uranium but would move the enrichment process to a facility to be built for Iran in Russia, Hadley said.

Glossing over differences straining their political relationship, Bush and Putin greeted each other warmly Friday, and emphasized cooperation in the war on terror and the campaign to stop North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

"The dynamic in the room was very positive, very loose ... there was a lot of laughing, a lot of joking," White House counselor Dan Bartlett said.

"Hey Vladimir. How are you? Looking good," Bush said as the two leaders began their meeting. "I always enjoy a chance to have a good discussion with you. You're right. We've got a very important relationship. We value your advice."

Bush asked Putin if he wanted to address reporters. Putin said he did not. Bush shrugged and said, "OK, me neither." The two leaders then retreated to seats out of earshot from reporters.

Bush said Russia was a positive force in international negotiations to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear program, Bartlett said. They did not discuss Bush's eagerness to go to the UN Security Council with suspicions that Iran is trying to build a nuclear arsenal, he said.

The two leaders focused on their joint position that Iran should not be allowed to use its nuclear program to make weapons. Bartlett said the United States supported Moscow's plan, which would allow Iran to covert uranium into a gas that is the precursor to making enriched uranium. But the enrichment itself would be done in Russia.

In theory, that would deny Iran the capacity to produce weapons-grade uranium for nuclear weapons.

Though Iran has "not surprisingly" so far rejected the idea, Hadley said, "We think that doesn't end it. This will be an issue we will return to."

The United States has expressed concerns that Moscow is retreating from democracy, but Bartlett indicated the leaders did not dwell on that issue. "Our position is well known on that," he said, saying the focus was on issues such as trade and Iran and the Middle East.

Putin has called for tough restrictions on Western-funded nongovernmental groups in Russia. Bartlett said the issue was "raised and discussed" but he would not provide details.

Far from home, Bush was on the defensive about Democrats' criticism that he misled America about the reasons for going to war in Iraq. He also was confronted with an announcement Friday that South Korea intended to bring home about one-third of its 3,200 troops in Iraq next year.

The announcement caught the White House by surprise, coming in the midst of Bush's trip to South Korea.

Friday's meeting between Bush and Putin was their fifth this year, following talks in Moscow; Washington; Bratislava, Slovakia; and Gleneagles, Scotland. Despite their disputes, the two are on a first-name basis and emphasize their friendship, which was strengthened when Putin supported Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Over U.S. objections, Russia is building a nuclear reactor for a power plant in Iran, an $800 million project Washington fears could be used to help develop nuclear arms. Putin says he has been assured Tehran has no ambitions for developing a nuclear weapon and instead wants its program for civilian energy use alone.

During the two-day summit, APEC leaders promised a raft of measures to fight corruption, deal with high oil prices and advance their own free-trade goals.

But it was the current stalled global-trade round that dominated the two-day summit, just three weeks before a key World Trade Organization meeting in Hong Kong.

The leaders, who clearly blamed Europe for the deadlock in remarks on the sidelines of the summit, stopped short of naming the continent in their statement on trade. Officials said it was too politically sensitive.

The leaders condemned recent terrorist attacks and approved a U.S. plan to have all of APEC's 21 members test their major airports for vulnerability to attack from shoulder-fired missiles, which Washington fears are in the hands of terrorists.

The leaders also launched an initiative to protect intellectual property, seeking to stem counterfeit goods and software piracy, and said they would find ways to offset the effects of high oil prices.

The statements were adopted at a meeting in a cupcake-shaped villa built on the rugged coast outside Busan and named Nurimaru, or "Pinnacle of the World." The leaders then posed for a group photograph dressed in traditional Korean silk overcoats called durumagi.

Leaders chose their color from a rainbow of pastels. Among the leaders, Putin, Bush and Australian Prime Minister John Howard wore blue, Hu brown, Koizumi silver and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun suited up in gold.

About 1,000 anti-globalization protesters attempted to march to the meeting venue. Security forces blocked them, and the protesters dispersed peacefully after several hours. On Friday, police clashed with activists from a crowd of about 4,000 protesters who failed to disrupt the meeting.

(The Moscow Times 21.xi.05)

 
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