BERLIN (Reuters) - U.S President George W. Bush on Tuesday sought to soothe Russia's Vladimir Putin about U.S. missile shield plans on the eve of a big-power summit that could also expose rifts on climate change and aid for Africa.
"Russia is not our enemy," Bush declared in Prague ahead of a meeting in Germany of Group of Eight (G8) leaders whose atmosphere has been suddenly threatened by the U.S.-Russia row.
Describing the planned missile defence shield, parts of which would be sited in Eastern Europe, as a "purely defensive" measure, Bush told a news confernece:
"My message (to Russian President Vladimir Putin) will be ... you should not fear the missile defence system, why don't you cooperate on the missile defence system?" Bush told a news conference.
"Why don't you participate with the United States? Send your generals over to see how such a system would work, send your scientists," said Bush who earlier met Czech leaders.
Putin, who will meet Bush at the summit, has said if Washington pushes ahead with its plans to deploy parts of the system in Poland and Czech Republic Russia will revert to targeting its missiles on Europe as it did in the Cold War.
Russia took a fresh swipe at Washington on Tuesday over the issue. Speaking in Seoul, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated that the missile shield plans to guard against what Washington calls "rogue states" like Iran and North Korea did not reflect military reality.
Verbal exchanges over the U.S. missile shield plans have set Russia and the United States on a collision course ahead of the summit in Germany, though the tradition of G8 such gatherings is to paper over differences publicly.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel holds the G8 rotating presidency and will host the meeting of leaders from Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States at the elegant beach-side Kempinski Grand Hotel in Heiligendamm.
EYES ON BALI
She had hoped to secure G8 backing for new targets on cutting greenhouse gas emissions that scientists warn could prompt ever increasing heatwaves, floods and rising seas if not brought under control.
But new climate change proposals from Bush last week have shifted the focus of German "sherpas", who were meeting on Tuesday with their G8 counterparts to put the finishing touches on summit declarations to be made by the leaders.
European Union countries fear the Bush plan could sabotage efforts to produce a successor to the Kyoto Protocol under the auspices of the United Nations.
They are now hoping to convince Bush to integrate his proposals with the U.N. process or send a clear signal at the summit that they do not compete with it.
The German hosts and their European partners hope the summit can give a political impetus for a U.N. climate conference due to take place in Bali, Indonesia in December.
"I welcome President George W. Bush's recent declaration that he, too, will launch an American climate initiative," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon wrote in a contribution to the International Herald Tribune on Tuesday.
"I urge that this take place within the U.N.'s global framework for discussion, so that our work may be complementary and mutually reinforcing," he added.
Informal meetings of the world's top industrial powers date back to 1975, when the G6 (Canada joined in 1976 and Russia in 1998) gathered in Rambouillet, France, to coordinate economic policy following a global oil crisis and the collapse of the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates.
In Heiligendamm, the leaders will discuss foreign policy issues including Iran's nuclear programme, Middle East peace, Sudan and Kosovo.
The German hosts are also aiming to secure new G8 pledges on development aid and AIDS funding for Africa, but differences were evident before the summit even began.
Anti-poverty campaigner Bob Geldof told Reuters on Monday that Canada was blocking an agreement that would reconfirm aid commitments made at a 2005 G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland.
Canada quickly rejected the allegations.
(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria and Jan Lopatka in Prague)