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BUSH says his talks with Putin raise hopes for constructive U.S.-Russian relationship

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ Reporting on an eventful European trip, President Bush reminded Congress Wednesday of the importance he places on bipartisan foreign policy and said his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin raise hopes for a constructive relationship with Russia.

Bush also said that possible cuts of production and a consequent rise in fuel prices by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries could be damaging.

Bush said he had read statements from OPEC ministers that any new production cut will merely represent attempts to make sure the market remains stable and predictable.

``Obviously if it's an attempt to run the price of oil up we'll make our opinions very clear,'' Bush said. ``Our economy is bumping along right now and a run-up in energy prices would hurt, and surely the OPEC leaders understand that,'' he said.

Bush said his talks with Putin were fruitful and full of ``the hope and promise I see for a constructive relationship.''

Bush spoke at the beginning of a meeting with members of Congress concerned with foreign policy including Sen. Joseph R. Biden, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Bush complained during the trip about criticism of his foreign policy positions from Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., just as he was about to embark.

Although he did not repeat those complaints at the meeting Wednesday, he emphasized anew the importance he places on a bipartisan foreign policy. Daschle was not present at the meeting.

Bush ended his trip with a visit to the battle-scarred Balkans.

During the journey he also tangled with key allies over environmental policy and intensified anti-missile shield negotiations with Russia.

He chastised violent protesters at a summit of industrialized nations in Genoa, Italy, then was lectured himself by Pope John Paul II in Rome.

It was the second overseas trip of Bush's presidency and, like the first, the venture produced some success, some failure.

He ended on a solemn note. Standing just 50 miles from rebel fighting on Tuesday, he urged ethnic Albanians in Kosovo to stop sneaking weapons across the border to Macedonia, where rebel attacks on government forces threaten to spark a new Balkan civil war.

Hours later, the Macedonian government's army barracks in Tetovo came under rebel attack. Macedonia closed the Kosovo-Macedonia border.

More than 5,000 U.S. troops participate in the NATO-led effort to preserve hard-won peace in Kosovo, a province of the Serb Republic. Their mission was expanded in June to ferret out arms being smuggled across the 100-mile border shared with Macedonia.

As he spelled out U.S. involvement in the region, Bush seemed to be seeking a balance between his allegiance to NATO and long-held skepticism with peacekeeping missions.

``NATO's commitment to the peace of this region is enduring, but the stationing of our force here should not be indefinite,'' he said in the statement.

And so ended a trip that began a week ago with sightseeing in London. He toured the British Museum, Winston Churchill's war bunker and Buckingham Palace, where he and first lady Laura Bush ate lunch with the queen.

Barbara Bush, one of their 19-year-old twin daughters, joined her parents at the palace and received unwanted attention from the British press, which tut-tutted about her palace attire.

When he got down to work, Bush played down his differences with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and emphasized what aides say has become a surprisingly strong professional bond.

Blair was close to President Clinton, a fellow left-of-center politician, but U.S. officials say the prime minister has gone to extraordinary lengths to convince Bush that theirs can be a special relationship, too.

The meeting underscored that Bush will have a hard time selling his anti-missile system to key allies. He acknowledged that he has only vague notions of what the system would entail until he can set aside the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia that forbids advanced testing and deployment of missile shields.

In their private talks, Blair pressed Bush for details about his missile shield plan. ``What do you want me to support? What are you proposing?'' Bush quoted Blair as asking.

The issue was center stage when Bush met Putin in Genoa later in the week. Theirs was the last session of an eight-nation summit, and produced a surprise agreement: Bush and Putin will link talks about reducing nuclear stockpiles _ something they both favor _ with tougher missile defense negotiations.

Despite the optimism of their news conference, the two remain far apart on the missile defense issue. Neither did they agree on the size of nuclear cuts, a timetable or what weapons would be involved.

The Genoa summit was marred by violent protesters demonstrating against globalization, trade practices and economic policies pursued by the leaders working inside the walls of a 13th century palace.

Defiant, Bush said the leaders did a better job of representing the poor than did the protesters.

``Instead of addressing policies that represent the poor, you embrace policies that lock poor people into poverty,'' Bush said on the opening day of a three-day summit.

One of the protesters was killed an hour later, shot by a member of the riot squad.

Issues of life and death were laid squarely at Bush's feet again Monday in Rome, when he met the pope for the first time.

With the president close to deciding whether to ban government funding of embryonic stem cell research, the 81-year-old pontiff called the burgeoning science an assault on human life.

Respectful but noncommittal, the president said, ``I'll take that point of view into consideration.''

And, then he was off to Kosovo. And home, arriving back at the White House Tuesday evening.
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