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Lawmakers: Bush must lean on Putin

McCain, Lieberman want Russia out of G8

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Top lawmakers called on President Bush to pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin on several key fronts during a summit this week, with one senior Republican warning on Sunday that Putin "is on the verge of isolating himself."

Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, cited Putin's turns away from democracy in his country, his support for the original winner of the discredited Ukrainian election and his announcement last week that he did not believe Iran presents a nuclear threat.

"I think [Bush] should say, 'Vladimir, you made a serious foreign policy mistake in your handling of the Ukraine elections, and you're making another serious mistake as regards to Iran,'" McCain said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"The evidence is overwhelming that Iran, at least, has made enough steps towards acquiring a nuclear capability that we should all be concerned, and the evidence is very clear. And so I believe that Mr. Putin has got to understand that he is on the verge of isolating himself in many respects," he said.

After meeting Friday at the Kremlin with Iran's security chief, Hasan Rowhani, Putin said, "The latest steps taken by Iran have convinced us that Iran does not intend to produce nuclear arms," the Russian news agency Interfax reported. "In this context, we will continue cooperation with Iran in all areas, including the nuclear energy field."

The comments put Putin squarely against the position of the White House, which argues Iran is trying to develop a covert nuclear weapons program under the guise of a nuclear energy program.

The International Atomic Energy Agency acknowledges that Iran cheated and hid its activities in the past -- and that the agency duly reported on it -- but says it now sees no evidence of such activity. The agency has called on the United States to join Europe in diplomatic efforts to resolve the matter.

McCain joined with Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, in introducing legislation this past week calling on Bush to seek suspension of Russia's membership in the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized democracies. The two released a statement saying the step should be taken "until the Russian government ends its assault on democracy and political freedom."

"In 2003, I warned of a 'creeping coup' in Russia against the forces of democracy and market capitalism in Russia," McCain said in the statement. "Since then, Russia has actually moved backward.

"Mr. Putin has moved to eliminate the popular election of Russia's 89 regional governors, has cracked down on independent media, continued his repression of business executives who oppose his government and is reasserting the Kremlin's old-style central control," McCain said. "The coup is no longer creeping -- it is galloping."

Putin did restructure the elections process, giving himself a great deal more power. But he has insisted there is no threat of a return to Soviet-era governmental control.

Lieberman, in the statement, said Putin's "assault on democracy in Russia violates the spirit of the industrialized democracies and the letter of Russia's obligations to the Group of Eight."

The resolution "would express the sense of Congress that the Russian government's selective prosecution of its political opponents, suppression of free media, continued abuses by military forces against civilians in Chechnya, and failure to pursue a genuine political process that could end the military campaign do not reflect the minimum standards of democratic governance and rule of law that characterize every other member of the G8," Lieberman said.

Two Democrats disagree

At least two prominent Democrats said Sunday that they disagree with the call for rejection from the G8.

"I don't think this is the proper time," Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia said on "Fox News Sunday."

But he said Bush's "most important conversation" during his five-day trip through Europe will be Thursday's meeting in Bratislava, Slovak Republic, with Putin. They need to have a "stern conversation," particularly about Iran, Rockefeller said.

And Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, sitting alongside McCain in Baghdad during the NBC interview, said she is "not yet in favor" of excluding Russia from the G8.

"I think we need to have vigorous diplomatic engagement at this point. And the administration, at least to my view in trying to follow this, has not really been so engaged," she said. "If that proves unsuccessful, then perhaps I would agree that we have to take some additional measures."

Bush has not publicly weighed in on the call for G8 exclusion. In an interview Saturday with European journalists, he praised his relationship with Putin and said he can be "frank" with him.

"There is still some distrust between the countries, but not at the leadership level," he said. "Vladimir has made some decisions that I look forward to hearing, in a very private way -- you know, why he made the decisions he made."

And in an interview with France 3 Television on Saturday, Bush said of the concerns on Iran, "We want to work with our friends to not only speak with one voice, clearly with one voice, but also to help others realize -- like Russia realize.

"And I think President Putin understands that the Iranians shouldn't have a [nuclear] weapon. I'm convinced, again, if the Iranians hear us loud and clear, without any wavering, that they will make the rational decision."

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