by RAY FLEMING “CONSISTENT, transparent, an honest and an easy man to discuss our opportunities and problems with.” Who was President Bush talking about? Would you believe Vladimir Putin? That's who it was after their meeting at the Bush family home at Kennebunkport, Maine. As we know, Mr Bush prides himself on these instant character assessments; at his first meeting with Mr Putin he said he had “looked deep into his soul and seen a Russian patriot” and, as a matter of fact, that was probably right. Nothing came out of the Maine meeting, it seems, beyond a relaxed exchange of views away from the formality of the conference chamber. In particular the disagreement over the US' plan to install an anti-missile shield in Central Europe, was not eased; Russia thinks it is the real target of this missile shield while the US insists it is a defence against Iran. However, Mr Putin sprang a surprise by suggesting that his idea for an alternative system based on Russian territory should be examined by the NATO-Russia Council, a consultative body formed in 2002 but not much used since. Mr Bush said the idea was “innovative and strategic”.

Probably both men were on a fishing trip in more ways than one. At sea together they could only catch one fish, hooked by Mr Putin. Was the poor haul due to over-fishing of the earth's oceans or did they just put it down to their own inexperience?

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