WASHINGTON (AP) – With U.S.-Russian relations under heavy strain, President Bush and President Vladimir Putin will meet July 1 and 2 in Kennebunkport, Maine, administration officials said Wednesday.

“It’s an opportunity for him and President Putin to continue what is always, for the two of them, candid and very honest conversations about things that matter,” Bush spokesman Tony Snow said.

Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, has an oceanfront compound in Kennebunkport, and the two leaders will meet there.

The session comes at a time when many experts say relations between the two nations are at their lowest point since the Soviet era.

On Tuesday, Putin warned that the planned U.S. missile shield for Europe would turn the region into a “powder keg.”

Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have all tried to reassure the Russians that the missile system is aimed at preventing attack by a rogue state against the United States or Europe.

Washington and Moscow are also at odds over Kosovo, a province of Serbia that is under U.N. and NATO administration.

Russia has called a Western-backed draft U.N. resolution that would endorse supervised independence for the Serbian province unacceptable.

Bush and Putin will discuss Iran, civil nuclear cooperation, missile defense and other issues, Snow said.

The two leaders also will see each other next week in Heiligendamm, Germany, during the annual summit of industrialized nations.

Asked why Bush chose to hold the meeting at his father’s house in Maine, Snow said, “Why not? It’s a good place to have it.”

Russia views U.S. activity in its former sphere of influence with growing suspicion. Earlier this month, in a speech, Putin denounced “disrespect for human life, claims to global exclusiveness and dictate, just as it was in the time of the Third Reich.”

The Kremlin insisted that Putin had not meant to compare the Bush administration’s policies with those of Nazi Germany, but the reference appeared to highlight Russia’s annoyance at what it sees as U.S. domination of world affairs.

Soon after, in Moscow, Rice won agreement from Putin to tone down Russian tough talk in an effort to improve strained ties. Neither side, though, gave ground on their disagreements over missile defense and Kosovo.

Bush also has met with Putin at the presidential retreat at Camp David in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains. And, Putin was the first head of state to visit Bush’s ranch in Texas in November, 2001. “You only invite your friends into your house,” Bush said at the time.

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