ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – President Bush brought a straightforward message Friday to Russian leader Vladimir Putin and world leaders gathering for a weekend summit: when possible, speak with a single voice in combating crises such as the flare-up in the Middle East.
Followed by a host of global troubles, Bush arrived in St. Petersburg in the afternoon local time to an understated welcome.
He went straight to pay respects at a monument honoring those who defended Leningrad — the Soviet name for St. Petersburg — during the 900-day World War II siege of the city. More than half a million people died, most of hunger.
Bush and his wife, Laura, walked slowly toward the tall obelisk inscribed with the dates of the siege before two high-stepping soldiers bearing a large wreath. With the flowers laid at the base, they paused for a long moment of silence.
Making a gentle statement about democratic backsliding under Putin's leadership, Bush went from there to sit down with 20 Russian civil society activists. They are involved in promoting human rights, education, environmental protection, public health and other issues.
The highlight of the president's first day here was dinner with Putin at the opulent 18th century Konstantin Palace, the luxurious venue Putin chose for the Group of Eight meetings.
In meetings between the president and Putin, Bush was pressing his case that Russia should be more tolerant of political liberties and a free press. The president says he will make his point in a respectful way.
But it is Bush's fierce support for Israel that puts him at odds with some of the other G8 nations. Summit host Russia as well as France have criticized the Israeli attacks on Lebanon.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Bush was certain to discuss Israel's attacks on Lebanon and the counterattacks on Israel with Putin and the other G8 nations: Germany, Britain France, Italy, Japan and Canada.
Rice told reporters it seemed likely those countries would issue a statement on the rising violence in the Middle East.
"It's unthinkable that these leaders could get together and not discuss what's going on there," she said.
She said a three-person team sent by the United Nations to the region should get a chance to try to defuse the crisis.
At the same time, she said, "We don't want to send confusing signals. The too many cooks in the kitchen is one we want to avoid."
On Thursday, Bush defended Israel's attacks in Lebanon but raised concerns that they could weaken or topple the fragile government in Beirut.
But his strong support of Israel conflicted with European Union allies two days before the U.S. had hoped to see the G8 produce a united stand against Iran's nuclear ambitions and North Korea's long-range missile test.
Bush and Putin are meeting as U.S. and Russian negotiators try to conclude a deal to let Russia join the World Trade Organization. The presidents could announce it as early as Saturday.
But while officials announced a breakthrough in banking, officials said U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab and Russian Economics Minister German Gref continued working Friday on a number of other sticking points.
"There is no resolution at this point," said Sean Spicer, Schwab's spokesman.
Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president, said the White House understands the Russian desire to have an announcement during Bush's visit, but that they weren't quite there yet.
Bush finished his German visit by joining Chancellor Angela Merkel for a wild boar barbecue feast at a restaurant in the small village of Trinwillershagen. He told invited guests that, coming from Texas, being treated to a barbecue was "one of the greatest compliments."
"Let's go eat," he said, then shook the hands of hunter and restaurant owner Olaf Micheel and sliced several pieces off the boar on the spit and served them to guests.