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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush-Putin Meeting a Gift for Slovenia

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — For a tiny Alpine nation of 2 million people, Slovenia has attracted remarkable attention from the leaders of the world's superpowers in its 10 years of existence as an independent state.

The former Yugoslav republic will host the first summit meeting between President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush on Saturday, just two years after a visit to Ljubljana by former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Slovenians attribute the choice of location to good personal contacts with the U.S. and Russian leaders, the country's impeccable recent history as a stable democracy and the fact that it was never a member of either NATO nor the Warsaw Pact. "There was no other possibility but Slovenia," said Dejan Kovac, an international affairs editor at Dnevnik newspaper.

"They wanted to do it in Europe but not in the European Union or inside NATO, as the EU and NATO both represent political division. Eastern European states that used to be in the Warsaw Pact were not suitable for similar reasons and security there could also be a problem."

Bush's National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, echoing Clinton's comments two years ago, hailed Slovenia as the success story of the Balkans.

"It seems to be a very good place to meet the Russian president and also to meet the Slovenes, because, frankly, in the Balkan story, Slovenia is a pretty remarkable success story," Rice said.

Slovenia regards the choice as a birthday present for the 10th anniversary of its independence, which it will celebrate a week after the summit.

The country was the first to break away from former Yugoslavia in 1991 and the summit is seen as the most important global event on its territory in modern history.

Slovenian President Milan Kucan said the choice of location was an acknowledgement of the country's economic, political and social reforms over the past 10 years and its efforts to help reduce tension in southeastern Europe.

Bush and Putin will separately meet Kucan and Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek before holding their first bilateral talks at a medieval castle at Brdo Castle, a 500-hectare government estate some 25 kilometers north of Ljubljana.

Both Putin and Bush are approaching the summit in the castle with caution, with relations in recent months frosty over U.S. missile defense plans, spy scandals and Russia's growing military and nuclear ties with Iran.

The meeting will produce no written agreements and last just an afternoon, Foreign Ministry officials say. That means personal impressions may well play a crucial role in the success — or failure — of the summit.

Putin is under pressure to make an impression on the U.S. policy team as a firm negotiator whose nation's needs cannot be dismissed — but without risking confrontation or global isolation. Above all, the summit is expected to address Russian concerns about the United States' determination to scrap the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty by building a missile defense system.

The Kremlin has been tight-lipped about Putin's agenda for the meeting, fueling speculation that Putin has no major policy proposals to present.

"The Russian administration hasn't decided where it's position is in the world," said Dmitry Trenin, deputy director of the Carnegie Endowment's Moscow office.

If Bush and Putin are looking for any omens ahead of their first summit, they'll find mostly bad ones at the site of their talks, the Brdo Castle built at the foot of the Alps by a local feudal lord in 1510.

It was a favorite resort of the late Yugoslav dictator Josip Broz Tito, who came there to hunt and to rest. In 1980, Tito spent the New Year's holiday there among his beloved game trophies. Already ill, he ended up being rushed to a clinic in Ljubljana, where he eventually died in May of that year.

From 1989 to 1990, the leaders of the six republics that at the time still made up the Yugoslav federation held a series of meetings — including one at the castle — in an attempt to find a way to prevent the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia. No agreement was reached.

Fortunately, the castle's more recent history is cheerier.

Surrounded by a lush forest, the charming property draws a steady stream of foreign dignitaries who never fail to be impressed.

(Reuters, AP)