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The United States president left the NATO summit in Bucharest
The United States president left the NATO summit in Bucharest for a brief stop-off in Croatia, one of the two new recruits to the military alliance, and will arrive in south Russia later on Saturday.

Croatia along with Albania were invited to join NATO at the three-day summit which concluded on Friday, but the bloc's members rejected George W. Bush's calls for membership talks to be started with Georgia and Ukraine. Macedonia's membership plans were postponed by Greece's veto.

Bush had dinner with Croatian President Stipe Mesic on Friday evening, and today will give a speech on St. Mark's Square in Zagreb before leaving for Sochi for talks with President Vladimir Putin at the Russian leader's villa.

Bush and Putin are expected to meet for an informal dinner later today, and will begin negotiations on Sunday. The U.S. leader will also meet on Sunday with Russian president-elect Dmitry Medvedev, who is set to take over in the Kremlin on May 7 when Putin steps down.

The presidents' talks, a continuation of their meeting at the NATO summit which Putin attended as a guest, are again likely to focus on missile defense and NATO expansion. The agenda will also include a broader strategic security deal between the two countries.

After meeting with NATO leaders on Friday, Putin said that any further NATO expansion toward Russia's borders would be interpreted as a direct security threat, but ruled out a new Cold War.

"The appearance on our borders of a powerful military bloc... will be considered by Russia as a direct threat to our country's security," he said.

In a bid to make up for his recent confrontational rhetoric, Putin highlighted some positive aspects of cooperation with the Western bloc, including Russia's consent at Friday's talks to transit NATO non-military supplies to the alliance's troops engaged in anti-terrorism operations in Afghanistan.

Putin said Friday's discussions had been "constructive," and called for closer ties with NATO to tackle differences that include an amended Cold War-era Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty and Washington's missile defense plans for Europe. The issues have plunged Russia's relations with the West to a post-Cold War low.

Putin also said he was happy that Russia's concerns over U.S. plans to deploy a missile base in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic had been heard by NATO, and that Washington and Moscow would continue to discuss the issue.

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