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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush Recalls the Day He Met Putin

President Vladimir Putin hints that Russia wants to join NATO, and U.S. President George W. Bush thinks, "Why not?" Putin tells Bush about losing then finding a cross his mother gave him, and Bush takes at as sign that Putin believes in a "higher power."

These are among the stories about the presidents' first meeting last summer that Bush shares with American writer Peggy Noonan in her new book on former President Ronald Reagan, which was released Monday.

In the chapter on Bush in "When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan," Bush relays some of the topics he and Putin discussed when they sat down face to face for the first time on June 16, the day Bush made the now famous comment about getting a sense of Putin's soul.

Bush says that in addition to faith and NATO, the two leaders discussed security threats posed by Islamic fundamentalism, the opportunity to make history by forging a close relationship and the problems that hard-liners in both countries pose to such a relationship -- topics that have since grown in importance and are among those dominating this week's summit.

"It was a big moment," Bush says of the meeting.

"I found a man who realizes his future lies with the West, not the East, that we share common security concerns, primarily Islamic fundamentalism. ... On the other hand, he doesn't want to be diminished by America."

Interviewed later in June by Noonan, Bush says he felt Putin was "battling with a kind of anti-American bureaucracy." Bush adds: "He probably thinks I'm dealing with a bunch of hard-liners here about him too. And the best way for me to welcome him to the West and to encourage him to make the right choices ... is to break down any barriers that he may have."

When discussing Russia's relationship to NATO, Putin "almost hinted that he wanted to be in NATO," Bush says. He tells Noonan that he didn't push Putin on the topic, but later thought "Why not?"

He also says it requires more thought.

Bush asked Putin about previous comments he had made about a cross, which was given to him by his mother, that he had had specially blessed in Jerusalem.

Noonan quotes Bush: "I said to him, 'You know, I found that story very interesting. You see, President Putin, I think you judge a person on something other than just politics. I think it's important for me and for you to look for the depth of a person's soul and character. I was touched by the fact your mother gave you the cross.'"

Bush says that Putin in turn told him a story about coming close to losing the cross in a house that burned down.

"Putin said to me, 'The thing I was most worried about was I lost my cross that my mother had given me. And a worker came.' He wanted to tell the worker, 'Go find the cross.'"

Putin told Bush that when the worker walked up to him, put out his hand and opened it to reveal the cross, "It was as if something meant for me to have the cross."

"Basically it seemed he was saying there was a higher power," Bush recalls. "I said, 'Mr. Putin, President Putin, that's what it's all about -- that's the story of the cross.'"

Bush pushed Putin on the need to trust each other.

"I said, 'President Putin, you and I have a chance to make history. ... This meeting could be the beginning of making some fabulous history. We're young. ... Why aren't we thinking about how to fashion something different, so when [historians] think about the Bush-Putin meeting and the Bush-Putin relationship they think about positive things?'"