Bush and Putin Will Sign a Paper in Sochi

U.S. President George W. Bush and President Vladimir Putin will sign a document outlining the framework for strategic relations between their two countries at a meeting this weekend, a Kremlin source said Tuesday.

"Experts are working on a joint document, which will become a road map of our cooperation during a transitional period and for the medium-term," the source said.

He did not give any further details.

U.S. officials have said Bush and Putin hope to agree on a "strategic framework" of relations to bequeath to successors during the meeting Sunday at Putin's Black Sea residence in Sochi.

Bush said Tuesday that he also hoped for a breakthrough on a missile-defense plan that Russia sees as a threat.

Bush, speaking during a visit to Kiev, said he was looking forward to his last official meeting with Putin, saying Putin had proved a strong leader and "I like him."

Bush famously declared after his first encounter with Putin in 2001 that he trusted him after gaining a "sense of his soul." Critics later derided that statement as naive as Putin took steps they said curbed democratic freedoms.

On Tuesday, Bush said nothing about trust but defended his policy of engaging Putin, saying it was important to the world that the United States had a working relationship with Russia.

"This will be my last chance to visit with him face to face," said Bush, speaking alongside Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko.

The encounter will take place after both men attend a NATO summit in the Romanian capital, Bucharest. It comes as both leaders are in the twilight of their presidencies. Bush is nearing the end of his term, while Putin is due to hand over power to his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, on May 7.

"I've worked with him for eight years," Bush said. "We've had a very interesting relationship. I like him. He's a person that, you know, has been a strong leader for Russia."

The visit to Sochi is aimed at repairing U.S.-Russian ties, which have become strained over plans to deploy the U.S. missile-defense system in Europe, Western support for Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia and the NATO ambitions of Ukraine and Georgia.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was traveling Tuesday and could not be reached for comment. Referring to the planned framework document, Peskov told reporters Monday: "Of course we have to register all the achievements during the two terms of presidents Bush and Putin."

Russian news agencies quoted unidentified Kremlin officials as saying Tuesday that the document to be signed in Sochi would contain "a mention of missile defense," but they did not give any details.

Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said no missile-defense deal was in hand yet but that Bush and Putin could nail it down in Sochi.

Bush emphasized on Tuesday that he was contemplating no bargaining in terms of Ukraine's interests. There would be no "trade-offs" with Putin between the missile defense and U.S. support for allowing Ukraine and Georgia to start moves to join NATO.

Reuters, AP, MT