BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (CNN) -- President Bush landed Wednesday in Slovakia for the final stop on his European tour, ahead of a summit Thursday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Earlier Wednesday, Bush said he would raise concerns about the health of Russia's democracy when he meets with his counterpart.
"I expressed some concerns at the European Union yesterday about some of the decisions, such as freedom of the press, that our mutual friend has made," he told reporters during a meeting in Germany with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. "And I look forward to talking to him about his decision-making process."
Critics accuse Putin of rolling back democratic reforms that had come to Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. News outlets critical of the Kremlin have been shuttered, and critics such as Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former CEO of the oil company Yukos, have faced prosecution.
Former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, now an Israeli Cabinet minister, said recently that Putin has brought Russia back to "the times of a communist dictator."
The United States also was at odds with Putin over his support for the original winner of the discredited Ukrainian election and his announcement last week that he does not believe Iran presents a nuclear threat. (Full story)
Some U.S. lawmakers have called on Bush to suspend Russia's membership in the Group of Eight industrialized democracies. (Full story)
After their first meeting, in 2001, Bush famously declared that he had found Putin "straightforward and trustworthy" and gained "a sense of his soul." But U.S. officials concede that bond is now strained -- and that Bush will make clear that it is up to Putin to ease that tension.
Jamie Rubin, a State Department spokesman in the Clinton administration, said Bush's earlier embrace of Putin "makes it kind of hard for him to now read him the riot act."
"I think the Bush administration realizes that its policy was off-track and they will try to calibrate it now," Rubin said.
National security adviser Stephen Hadley said democratic reform in Russia is "a work in progress."
"Everyone wants a strong Russia," Hadley said. "But in the 21st century, a strong Russia will come the way strength of other states come: It will come through democratic structure."
Hadley said Bush has had "a very constructive relationship" with Putin. The two leaders have cooperated on antiterrorism and counterproliferation measures, and Moscow has aided the United States in talks over the nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran.
"That said, one of the things we've also made clear -- and the president was trying to make clear the other night -- is when President Putin says that he is committed to democracy, people will obviously watch and see how that is manifested in action," Hadley said.
The White House also has raised concern about Russian plans to sell missiles to Syria and its assistance to Iran's nuclear program. Iran says it is developing nuclear power for civilian energy, but the Bush administration has accused Tehran of working to develop nuclear weapons.
At the same time, Russia has faced periodic terrorist attacks by Islamic separatists from Chechnya, where Russian troops have fought a five-year guerrilla war. Russian campaigns against the Chechen guerrillas have been sharply criticized by human rights groups. (Full story)
Bush softens tone on Iran
Bush and Schroeder joined together Wednesday to insist that Iran must not develop nuclear weapons.
Bush met for two hours with Schroeder in the German city of Mainz.
At a news conference afterward, the chancellor said, "We absolutely agree that Iran must say no to any kind of nuclear weapon -- full stop."
The president softened his tone on the possibility of a U.S. attack on Iran. In Belgium the day before, Bush said the idea of an impending American strike on Iran was "ridiculous," but "all options are on the table."
On Wednesday, Bush said, "Iran is not Iraq. Diplomatic methods are just starting."
Bush's trip is widely viewed as an attempt to mend diplomatic relations strained by the U.S.-led Iraq war. Schroeder was a vocal opponent of the war.
In Iran on Wednesday, President Mohammad Khatami warned that the United States would pay a heavier price than Tehran if it interfered with the Islamic republic's independence.
Speaking on Iranian state television, Khatami said his country would never disavow its right to master nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
Bush did not directly answer a reporter's question about whether the United States would join Germany, France and Great Britain in their negotiations with Iran.
"The party that has caused these discussions to occur in the first place are the Iranians," Bush said.
"They were caught enriching uranium after they had signed a treaty saying they wouldn't enrich uranium," Bush said. "They have breached a contract with the international community. The party that needs to be held accountable is them, not any of us."
Khatami said Wednesday that Tehran plans to resume the enrichment process in six months, after a deadline in an agreement reached with the Europeans last year.
Bush said the United States and the Europeans "will continue to talk tactics to make sure that we achieve the objective."
"Iran must not have a nuclear weapon, for the sake of security and peace," he said. "That is a goal shared by Germany, France, Great Britain and the United States. Working together, we can get this accomplished."
Hadley later said the thorny issue of whether to offer incentives for Iran to end its nuclear ambitions was discussed.
Hadley would not say if the president has altered his opposition to incentives, but he said the two leaders discussed whether there should be "a mix of carrots and sticks, and who should the carrots come from and what should they be."
Differences put aside
Bush and Schroeder noted they had agreed to focus on areas of accord.
"Certainly no one wants to hide that we have had different opinions" about Iraq, Schroeder said. "But that is the past. Now our joint objective is that we come to a stable, democratic Iraq."
Schroeder pointed to Germany's contributions to Iraqi debt relief, and police and security force training, and Bush talked of "the need to put past differences behind us and focus on the people of that country."
Besides Iraq, the two leaders said they discussed the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and global climate change.