MOSCOW -- President Bush, eager for Russian help in the ongoing nuclear disputes with North Korea and Iran, tended to the sometimes frosty Washington-Moscow relationship yesterday by paying a quick call on President Vladimir V. Putin.
Bush paused to visit the Russian leader for an hour and a half at an airport stopover on his way to Southeast Asia for an eight-day trip that includes stays in Singapore, Vietnam, and Indonesia. Bush has meetings scheduled with several important allies, including Putin, on the sidelines of a summit of Pacific Rim leaders in Hanoi later this week. But only Putin rated a social call as well.
Russian news agencies quoted Kremlin spokesman Alexei Gromov as saying the two presidents discussed the Iranian nuclear program, the situation in the Middle East, and nuclear nonproliferation.
Gromov also confirmed that a bilateral agreement on Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization was being readied for signing in Hanoi.
National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley, talking to reporters aboard Air Force One after Bush left, said the president's get-together with Putin "was a social meeting as we said it would be. This was a refueling stop."
But Hadley also said that they "talked a little bit about proliferation generally" with regards to Iran and North Korea. He also said that he spoke with his Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov, about efforts to find an agreement on a new UN security resolution on Iran.
"We had a good discussion about that," Hadley said. He said the strategy is for all of the countries involved in the issue "to come up with a resolution themselves. I think the Russians think it's sound."
When Bush and his wife, Laura, landed, they were greeted on a red carpet on the tarmac by Putin and his wife, Lyudmila. The Russian president presented Mrs. Bush with a bouquet of yellow, orange, and red flowers, and the foursome exchanged kisses.
Inside the Vnukovo Airport terminal, the two couples took seats in ornate armchairs for photographers, a table nearby laid with lunch. The Bushes presented their hosts with a gift of a jumbo photograph of the four of them in one of the golf-cart-size electric cars that the Russians made available to leaders attending the Group of Eight summit Putin hosted in St. Petersburg in June.
The brief gathering was billed by White House advisers as not much more than a greeting between friends while Bush accepted the Russian generosity of allowing Air Force One to refuel in Moscow halfway through the 19-hour flight to Singapore. But the rarity of a president flying east to Asia, rather than west, no doubt reflected that the Washington-Moscow relationship needs a little extra care lately.
Russian officials described the meeting as cordial. As Bush was boarding his plane to resume his journey, he got a hug from Putin.
Russia voted for US-backed United Nations sanctions on North Korea after it conducted a nuclear weapons test. Now Washington is seeking to overcome Russian reluctance toward an upcoming vote on UN sanctions against Iran over its disputed nuclear program.
At the United Nations in New York, US Ambassador John Bolton said, "We've been trying to get sanctions in the Security Council against Iran's nuclear weapons program, and we've been having a lot of difficulty with Russia in particular, so I hope they had a chance to talk about that issue."
"The key thing is for Russia to internalize that the fight against nuclear proliferation is more important than commercial contracts, and that we're all safer when we don't enable countries like Iran and North Korea in their pursuit of nuclear weapons," he said.