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When the Bush team took power, so intense was the desire for a missile shield that the only question seemed to be, Should we tear up the ABM treaty now or wait and do it in Putin's face? Five months later, officials gush about how "constructive" Putin has been on missile defense. As Europe's opposition stiffened, a meeting with Putin became a priority. "There was nothing to be gained by keeping Russia at a distance," says an aide. "We're more likely to work out our differences if we build up a decent relationship."
The Bush-Putin meeting is not expected to produce any grand agreements. Bush will come armed with loosely worded proposals for cooperation on missile defense and Russian membership in the World Trade Organization. But there will be little detail, and with the two-hour meeting eaten up by niceties and translation time, no deal is likely. But a deal isn't the point. What Bush is doing is setting a new tone for Europe. Five months into his term, it's time to make a better impression.
--With reporting by Jay Branegan and John F. Dickerson/Washington, Paul Quinn-Judge/Moscow and Thomas Sancton/Paris