President Bush and Russian President Vladimir V. Putin talked by telephone Friday about their disputes on Iraqi sanctions and a proposed U.S. missile defense system, the latest effort by the two leaders to forge a personal relationship both say could help resolve such policy differences.
The 10-minute conversation, initiated by Putin, came as Bush was celebrating his 55th birthday at the family compound in Maine where his father usually vacationed while serving as president.
"It's important that I have a good relationship with Mr. Putin because it's good for our nations and it's also good for our world," Bush said as he prepared to speak with the Russian leader between rounds of golf with a foursome that included his father.
As he had after first meeting Putin during a trip to Europe in June, Bush was laudatory in his comments about his Russian counterpart.
"We share common interests," Bush told reporters. "He recognizes there are new threats in the 21st century. The United States is not a threat. And we can work cooperatively to address the new threats of the 21st century."
Bush had alarmed some conservative supporters when, after his face-to-face encounter with Putin in Slovenia last month, he said he had "looked the man in the eye and found him very trustworthy."
In the wake of those comments and Friday's phone conversation, conservative foreign policy analysts said they are watching the developing relationship between Bush and Putin with interest--and some concern.
Jonathan Clarke, a fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington, said he had hoped that Bush would forge relations with foreign leaders that were less personality-driven than had been the case under President Clinton.
"Then to see Bush come up with the rather strange psychobabble talk about the leader of a foreign country who used to be a KGB agent took people aback," Clarke said, referring to Putin's background.
Still, Clarke and others said it is important for the two leaders to have cordial relations.
"Mr. Putin is on a charm offensive, and I think Mr. Bush is reciprocating with a charm offensive of his own, and it makes it easier to achieve strategic goals for both sides," said Ariel Cohen, an expert on Russia for the Heritage Foundation, another Washington think tank.
Bush's conversation with Putin came a day after the U.S. president spoke for the first time with Chinese President Jiang Zemin. In that phone conversation, Bush expressed his concern about recent arrests in China of American citizens and residents.
Bush and Putin are scheduled to meet this month at a summit in Italy of the major industrial nations. Bush told Putin on Friday that, after the summit, Commerce Secretary Don Evans, Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice will visit Russia on a trade mission, the White House said.
"It's a sign of the strength of U.S.-Russian relations and the importance President Bush attaches to helping Russia to have a strong economy," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said.
Fleischer also said Bush and Putin discussed the Russian veto threat at the United Nations that this week forced the U.S. and Britain to abandon a proposed overhaul of sanctions against Iraq. The plan called for easing commercial exports to Iraq while tightening controls on goods with potential military uses. But the objections from Russia thwarted the plan, at least for now.
According to Fleischer, Bush told Putin that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Russian Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov "have additional work to do on that matter."
Fleischer said missile defense also came up, but he would not elaborate other than to note that defense officials from both nations are to meet to discuss the issue.
Bush wants to build a system to protect the U.S. from potential nuclear attacks by so-called rogue nations, a plan that would require either scrapping or amending the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty.
Putin wished Bush a happy birthday, Fleischer said, and a happy Independence Day to the U.S.
The conversation with Putin came at the start of a weekend of fun and relaxation for Bush. Joining him in Maine are First Lady Laura Bush, his parents and two of his siblings--brother Jeb, the governor of Florida, and sister Dorothy. The president's two teenage daughters remained in Texas, aides said.
"I'm going to get what I want for my birthday: spend some time with my family, a couple of good phone calls from some little girls down in Texas," Bush told reporters.
Times staff writer Megan Garvey contributed to this report.