Bush Aides Put Upbeat Spin on Summit

ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (AP) -- White House officials waged an extraordinary campaign during an 11-hour Air Force One flight to put a positive spin on the outcome of Sunday's summit talks between President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Four times on the long flight back to Washington from Sochi, Russia, Bush aides trooped back to the press cabin to make the case that the summit had turned out well, particularly on missile defenses.

It was the heaviest lobbying campaign veteran reporters could recall ever occurring on the president's plane. Press accounts of the summit had been sent to Bush's plane and administration officials thought they were too negative. Clearly, Bush's aides were disappointed.

Some of the officials' statements were on the record. Some of them were off-the-record - not to be used - or on "deep background" - not to be attributed to anyone in the administration. Some were on "background" - to be attributed to a senior administration official. It was hard keeping track of the conditions.

From the White House perspective, one word was the crucial element in the communique that Bush and Putin signed on Sunday.

The word? "Assuaging."

On paper, Putin said Russia appreciates U.S. efforts to address Moscow's concerns about Bush's plans for to base an anti-missile shield for Europe in Poland and the Czech Republic. And it went on to say that "if agreed and implemented, such measures will be important and useful in assuaging Russian concerns."

In the world of international diplomacy and the eyes of the White House, that represented a victory for Bush.

Never mind that Putin went to some lengths at a news conference with Bush to make clear that he still objects to the U.S. plan.

"This is not about language; this is not about diplomatic phrasing or wording; this is about the substance of the issue," the Russian leader had said. "I'd like to be very clear on this. Our fundamental attitude to the American plans have not changed. However, certain progress is obvious. Our concerns have been heard by the United States."

"We got the agreement that we sought and the only one that we could get at the leaders' level," National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said on Air Force One.

Hadley said the communique language - particularly "assuaging" - was the subject of debate, first at what was supposed to be a social dinner on Saturday night and then again as Bush and Putin held their final meeting Sunday.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Hadley worked with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the language over dinner. Hadley said Lavrov was concerned about saying "assuage" in the communique. Lavrov also insisted that the communique repeat Russia's objections to the sites in Poland and the Czech Republic.

"And we said `OK, you can restate your position that you do not like those two sites but what we need from you is, the transparency and confidence-building measures would assuage their concerns,'" Hadley said.

On Sunday, Bush and Putin looked at the issue and told Rice and Lavrov to work it out while they were in the room with the two presidents. Bush and Putin signed off on the results.

"So we got an agreement, it was the only agreement we sought and the only agreement we could get," Hadley reiterated.

He said Russia may never say it accepts the two disputed sites but may quietly accept them.

"But you know if the sites are built and ... the Russians show up, liaison officials who are accredited to their embassies and who work at the sites, you can decide in your own mind whether you think Russia has accepted the sites or not," Hadley said.

"I would argue that at that point they will have accepted those sites."

Bush, at the news conference in Sochi, took offense when a reporter suggested their talks on missile defense amounted to "kicking the can down the road." Bush rejected that interpretation and shot back, "Now, you can cynically say it's kicking the can down the road. I don't appreciate that ..."

There had been an anticipation in the White House press corps that Bush would invite reporters up to his conference room on the plane to reflect on the trip, as he has done on occasion. Four additional reporters were allowed to fly back with Bush, heightening those expectations. But it did not happen and White House officials did not dispute that Bush was steamed with the coverage.


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