George W. Bush once thought he could look into Vladimir Putin's eyes and see his soul. But now that the Russian leader has tightened his grip on power, the strained friendship between these two major statesmen could turn to outright enmity. The conflict over Iran is just one example.Bush looked into his soul, and saw the man he'd like to be.
Senator John McCain spoke in a low voice, as he often does at campaign appearances. The Republican presidential hopeful had just discussed Iran, and now it was time to say a word or two about Russia. "When I looked into Vladimir Putin's eyes," he told the audience in a conspiratorial whisper, "I saw three things: a K and a G and a B."
On Wednesday, at a White House press conference with George W. Bush, a reporter asked the president what he thought of McCain's words. "Pretty good line," said Bush with a chuckle -- and threw some more rhetorical coal on the fire. He said Putin was "wily" over the question of who might succeed him at the Kremlin. "He wouldn't tip his hand."
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Bush had just used unusually hawkish words at this press conference to describe the nuclear tension with Iran. Clearly referring to Putin, Bush had told reporters, "If you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing Iran from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."
That reference to "World War III" was reminiscent of earlier presidential rhetoric like "The Axis of Evil" (Bush, 2002) and "The Evil Empire" (Reagan, 1983). The choice of words reflected a deep chill in US-Russian relations -- and differences over Iran are not the only reason for the falling out.
"The relationship is really shaken. Both sides appear determined to verbally assault each other as often as possible over the coming months," says Rose Gottemoeller, Director of the Moscow office of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007