US President Bush met with Russian President Vladimir Putin today on the last leg of his European Democracy Quest tour. Bush has openly criticized
Putin for letting Russian democracy slide, while Putin says his restructuring is similar to the American Electoral College process.Russian journalists
confronted Bush, saying America's democracy was faulty and that Bush should account for limits he imposed on Americans' personal freedoms. Russia
needs US support to gain entry into the WTO; Bush needs Russia's support to go after Iran and North Korea.
President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed Thursday on new efforts to keep nuclear arms out of dangerous hands, but their sharp
differences over Russian backsliding on democracy spilled into an open and sometimes-prickly exchange.
...Putin compared his move to end direct popular election of regional governors to the American Electoral College process of electing presidents.
"It's not considered undemocratic, is it?" Putin said.
Bush was challenged as well, fielding questions from Russian journalists doubting American democracy.
"I'm perfectly comfortable in telling you, our country is one that safeguards human rights and human dignity, and we resolve our disputes in a
peaceful way," Bush said sharply.
Russian officials dislike what they see as U.S. meddling in their internal affairs and in former Soviet republics where Moscow's influence is waning
as some new leaders look westward.
But just as Bush wants to protect a vital partnership on security issues, Putin walks a careful line because of his desire not to harm Russia's
chances of membership in the World Trade Organization.
Bush and Putin said they were in unison on the importance of stopping suspected nuclear weapons programs in North Korea and Iran. They remained in
disagreement over Russian arms sales to Syria, which the United States wants halted, said a senior administration official.
"Incensed by U.S. talk of a lack of press freedom in Russia, two Russian reporters tried to turn the tables on President Bush during his summit news
conference with Vladimir Putin Thursday. ...the reporter then turned on Putin and demanded to know why he was not sticking up for Russian reporters by
talking about violations of the rights of American journalists.
Earlier another reporter, for Russia's Kommersant daily which is often critical of Putin, said America's democracy was also faulty and Bush should
account for some limits on personal freedoms imposed after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks."
Who Says We're Not
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On the surface, Bush's Democracy Quest tour went well. But diplomacy is all about making any conceivable situation look good. Things don't really
look all that peachy below the surface.
Bush did get a commitment from NATO to train Iraq's new military. Putin agrees that Iran and North Korea should not have nuclear weapons - but all the
agreements made on the tour sound like general agreements in principle, rather than specific agreements on policy.
More important, Bush does not have backing to clip China's wings, nor were any announcements made about financial backing for past or future US
have horse traded away any legal obstacles to his future offensives, but he's on his own. Which means America is too. Which means
American tax payers will foot the bill. Again. For another corporate free-for-all.
Democracy Quest: Europe