Medvedev Gets Kudos From G8 Peers

APThe costume heads representing seven of the G8 leaders lying on the ground at Odori Koen Park in Sapporo, on Japan's island of Hokkaido on Monday.
TOYAKO, Japan — President Dmitry Medvedev won praise Monday as a "smart guy" who is as direct as Vladimir Putin — even though his first talks at his international debut at a G8 summit yielded few results.

Medvedev's top foreign policy aide especially sought to stress the positive atmosphere surrounding the president's talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and U.S. President George W. Bush, which lasted more than an hour each.

Medvedev and Brown, meeting for the first time on the sidelines of the summit, discussed a host of thorny issues, including a boardroom battle at TNK-BP, and they agreed to improve relations, which have dropped to an all-time low following the poisoning death of Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.

"We have a number of issues that are outstanding between our countries that I will raise," Brown said at the start of the talks over tea.

In addition to TNK-BP, the outstanding issues include Russia's closure of British Council offices and refusal to extradite a suspect in the death of Litvinenko.

Initially scheduled to run 30 to 40 minutes, the meeting lasted well over an hour as the leaders got better acquainted and shared their visions of global issues, Russian officials said. "It was apparent that neither Brown nor Medvedev wanted to wrap up the talks," said a source in the Russian delegation who accompanied Medvedev.

"It was a completely positive meeting considering the situation we've had," the source said.

The three-day G8 summit, which opened Monday, is the first for both Medvedev and Brown.


Michel Euler / AP
Medvedev and his wife, Svetlana, on Monday night
Brown expressed concern about the difficulties faced by BP's British managers in obtaining work permits, while Medvedev responded that the issue involving permits was being handled in line with Russian legislation, Medvedev's foreign policy aide Sergei Prikhodko, who participated in the talks, told Russian reporters. Medvedev reiterated that the dispute between BP and its Russian partners was strictly a commercial affair.

The leaders spent the better part of the meeting discussing global problems like the financial crunch and Moscow's role in mediating Middle East talks, Prikhodko said. "The meeting indeed ran over, but in a good sense," he said.

Brown, speaking to reporters after the talks, said Britain and Russia shared common ground on a number of issues. Both countries are equally interested in progress in the Middle East peace process, Iran and tackling the "illegitimate regime" in Zimbabwe, Brown's office said in a statement.

Medvedev told Brown that he wanted relations to return to the level of normalcy seen several years ago, Prikhodko said. Medvedev noted at the start of the talks that trade turnover between the two countries was increasing despite tensions.

"We have some prospects for improvement in Russian-British ties, although it won't be easy," Prikhodko said, singling out what he called a series of anti-Russia articles in the British media before the G8 summit. "It's regrettable," he said. "We have a much more benevolent approach when we prepare for meetings."

At the meeting with Bush, Medvedev expressed particular concern over media reports that the United States was in talks with Lithuania over the deployment of elements of a missile-defense shield there, Prikhodko said. "That would be absolutely unacceptable," he said, adding that Russia did not see any "real progress" in allaying its concerns over U.S. missile-defense plans.


Jim Young / Reuters
Dmitry Medvedev shaking hands with George W. Bush during talks Monday.
The two leaders, however, failed to agree on anything of substance, pledging to continue regular contacts for the next six months until Bush steps down in January.

The meeting, the first since Medvedev took office, served as an opportunity for both presidents to show that the camaraderie Bush had enjoyed with Putin would continue. The presidents called each other by first name, and Medvedev wished Bush a happy 62nd birthday, which he celebrated Sunday.

Bush called Medvedev a "smart guy" and said the most important thing was his directness, a quality that he said earlier he had appreciated in Putin.

"You know, I'm not going to sit here and psychoanalyze the man, but I will tell you that he's very comfortable, he's confident, and that I believe that when he tells me something, he means it," Bush said in comments released by the White House. "Sometimes in politics people tell you one thing and mean another."

Bush used the same words in April when he met then-President Putin for their last summit in Sochi.


Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP
Dmitry Medvedev holding one-on-one talks with Gordon Brown on Monday.
Medvedev told Bush about his desire to negotiate a new European security pact that would also include the United States and Canada — an issue he also reiterated in separate talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The Western leaders appeared to give the proposal a cool reception. Prikhodko appeared to play this down, saying, "We have not received an answer, but we were not expecting a quick answer."

"For us, it's important that it has been heard, that it's not being rejected," he added.

Medvedev did not raise the issue of the European security pact with Brown, discussing with him the need to reform global financial institutions instead.

Merkel was all smiles as she started the talks, greeting the Russian delegation in Russian. Both she and Sarkozy said they wanted to discuss energy cooperation.

The French leader, who is typically animated, was reserved at the start of his first meeting with Medvedev, and he said Russia should enjoy the place in the international arena it deserved.

Medvedev expressed hope that France as the current president of the European Union would assist talks over a new partnership agreement, Prikhodko said.

Medvedev and Merkel have met three times this year and might meet again by year's end, he said.

The talks with Merkel and Sarkozy lasted about 30 minutes each.

The summit's first day coincided with Japan's Tanabata celebration, or star festival. In accordance with the tradition, the G8 leaders wrote their wishes on strips of paper and hung them on bamboo trees in the hall of the Windsor hotel, the official summit venue. Summit organizers did not disclose the leaders' wishes.

The leaders also watched Japanese performers dance in the thick fog surrounding the luxury hotel atop Poromoi Mountain in the heart of Japan's northern Hokkaido Island. The heavily guarded hotel offers dramatic views of the volcanic Toya Lake on a clear day. Visibility was poor, however, because of the fog.

"We are looking at the television, not out the window," said a Kremlin spokeswoman. She said summit host Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda had expressed regret over the poor weather in his conversation with Medvedev.