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(photo credit: AP)
While no strong public declaration of a shared Iran strategy came out of the Bush-Putin meeting, the US appeared to keep Russia on board with its policy of using international consensus to try to stem Iran's nuclear program at a time of rising tensions between the two powers.
Both nations signed onto arms reduction and nonproliferation cooperation on Tuesday, in a further demonstration of positive developments between the former foes.
Speaking from his family's Maine vacation home on Monday, where he hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin for two days, US President George W. Bush told reporters that Iran's attempts to acquire nuclear capabilities had been a major focus of the meetings.
"When Russia and America speaks with, you know, along the same lines, it tends to have an effect," Bush said in response to a question about whether Putin would go along with US proposals for significantly tougher sanctions against the Islamic Republic. "I have been counting on the Russians' support to send a clear message to the Iranians, and that support and that message is a strong message."
Pressed further, he said, "We're close on recognizing that we've got to work together to send a common message."
"We have managed to work within the framework of the Security Council, and I think we will continue to be successful on this front," said Putin, standing beside Bush.
But he hinted at a greater receptivity to the Iranian position when he mentioned recent signals from Teheran of possible "interaction, cooperation" with the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency and EU mediator Javier Solana's "positive data and information." "I think all of this would contribute to further substantial intercourse on this issue," he said.
"The administration would have been thrilled to get a robust statement of agreement from Putin," said Suzanne Maloney, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. But the key issue, she said, was that things "don't go off the rails" when it comes to Russian's position on Iran.
"The key for Washington is to try to keep everyone on board" so they can maintain a crucial international consensus at the UN, she said.
In this meeting, Russia continued to show it doesn't share Washington's sense of urgency about the Iranian program, even if it's increasingly acknowledging the threat a nuclear Iran would pose, according to Nikolas Gvosdev, a senior fellow at the Nixon Center in DC.
But, he said, "the administration got what it wanted," because "you didn't get the parting of the ways" that was possible between the two countries due to their differences.
"It keeps the momentum of the Security Council alive. It sends the message to Iran that its ability to split the Security Council is diminishing," he said, adding that the Russian presence would also help keep Europe fully on board.
Beyond the issue of sanctions, Iran's nuclear ambitions have been at the heart of a divide between the US and Russia over the placement of missile defense systems in Europe, a move America says it supports to defend against a potential Iranian attack.
That issue and other sensitive topics were raised but not resolved at the meetings, in a sign that the recent tensions persist despite the amiable ambiance at the get-together.
At the same time, the two countries pledged Tuesday to reduce their stockpiles of long-range nuclear weapons "to the lowest possible" level and signed a declaration released with a joint statement saying the United States and Russia would seek the cooperation of other countries to guard against the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Whatever the meeting's setbacks and advances, Maloney said the real test would come at the United Nations, not in Maine. That's when the extent of Russian support for further steps against Iran will become clear, she said.
"It's not the summit but the [Security Council] resolution that counts in terms of demonstrating to Iran that they have no allies left," she said.