STRELNA, Russia -- President Bush and Russian President Vladimir V. Putin committed their nations yesterday to cooperate in fighting potential nuclear terrorism, as they struggled to demonstrate that they could move beyond thorny differences over the state of democracy in Russia.
They affirmed their shared goal of working closely to counter nuclear weapons programs in Iran and North Korea and agreed to boost nuclear energy cooperation, but they failed to overcome trade differences - or the chilly tenor of their meeting.
Putin made a pointed reference to the deadly turmoil that persists in Iraq, after Bush cited the "free press and free religion" there as an example for Russia to follow.
"We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy as they have in Iraq, I will tell you quite honestly," Putin said.
Bush gave a forced smile.
"Just wait," the American president interjected, suggesting that Iraq will achieve a stable democracy. He spoke so quietly that his comment could barely be heard in the front row of the vast white tent where the news conference was held, and it was not clear whether Putin heard him.
The leaders met on the eve of a summit of the Group of Eight industrialized nations, with Russia the host for the first time. The conference has taken on all the trappings of an international debut for post-Communist Russia, even as it has spotlighted questions about whether the country is truly democratic.
Bush and Putin said they had directed their governments to launch negotiations on an agreement that would open the door to nuclear energy cooperation, which could include trade in nuclear power plant equipment and joint efforts to develop higher technology reactors.
It was the most tangible and significant demonstration that the two countries can move forward at a point that otherwise appears to be the most contentious since Bush took office in 2001. Putin has been president since 2000.
U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab and Russian Economy Minister German Gref said they aimed to reach a final trade deal by October. They said their talks had made breakthroughs on financial services and intellectual property rights but had failed to reach agreement on agricultural issues.
Gref said the main stumbling block was the issue of safety inspections of U.S. exports of frozen beef and pork. Agreement on the United States' issues with Russia is a key obstacle to Moscow's entrance to the World Trade Organization, which the United States favors. Schwab said an accord was 90 percent complete.