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Bush, Putin Meet in Kennebunkport

Presidents Bush and Putin met Monday in Kennebunkport, Maine, in hopes of repairing U.S.-Russia relations, which have been strained in recent months over White House plans to install a missile shield in Europe and NATO expansion.

It was all handshakes, smiles and kisses when Putin arrived at the Bush family estate that overlooks the rocky Atlantic seacoast.

Putin gave pecks on the cheeks to first lady Laura Bush and the president's mother, Barbara Bush, and handed them bouquets of flowers. Before disappearing from public view, Putin was seen aboard former President George H.W. Bush's speedboat, zooming along the coastline, grinning and waving to photographers.

"I'm very grateful to the Bush family for this very warm, cozy atmosphere around this meeting, and we appreciate it very much," Putin said. "I do believe that we have to learn something from the older generation."

The White House is describing the meeting with Putin as a chance for informal talks with no set agenda. The two sides have each stressed that it is not expected to produce any major breakthroughs.

Topics the two leaders are expected to cover include Putin's opposition to a proposed missile defense shield and ways to work more closely together to confront the nuclear threat posed by Iran.

President Bush said the two spent a lot of time talking about the Iranian issue, regarding tough sanctions, such as cargo inspections, against Iran.

"I am concerned about the Iranians' attempt to develop the technologies, know-how, to develop a nuclear weapon. The president shares that. I'm a little hesitant to put words in his mouth, but I think he shares that same concern," Bush said.

He said that he has been counting on the Russians' support to send a clear message to the Iranians, and that message is a strong message: "We have a problem with a regime that is in defiance of international norm."

When the two first met in 2001, they began what seemed an unlikely friendship, but in recent years the relationship has been marked by increasing tension.

This summit seems designed mostly to provide a chance to tone down heated rhetoric from both sides that has been reminiscent of the Cold War.

Bush announced that President Putin proposed a regional approach to missile defense "that we ought to work together bilaterally as well as work through the Russia-NATO Council, and I'm in strong agreement with that concept."

The two agree that they've got to work together to send a common message.

"So far we have managed to work within the framework of the Security Council, and I think we will continue to be

successful on this front," Putin said.

Meanwhile, a group calling for President Bush's impeachment organized a rally that drew about 1,000 people at Kennebunkport park. Most protested the Iraq war; a few highlighted Putin's crackdown on dissidents.

"We've lost 3,500 soldiers in Iraq. ... Bush is unwilling to admit that this is a failure," said Bill Muldoon of Freeport, Maine.

"It's a very weak position he has coming into this meeting with Putin," Beth Muldoon said. "I don't see that there's going to be a lot of leverage that he has in telling Putin what he should be doing."

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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