The elder Bush then piled his son and the Russian leader into his speedboat, Fidelity III, for a fast ocean ride, before settling down to dinner.

 

Signalling how important this relationship is and perhaps how rocky relations have got, this is the first foreign leader that Bush has hosted at his family's Maine estate.

 

Frosty ties

 

Analysts say Bush will want to warm relations that have become icy over a planned US missile defence system in central Europe that Russia sees as a threat and over opposing positions on independence for Kosovo.

 

Aides have played down expectations
of any major announcements [EPA]
There has been harsh rhetoric: Putin comparing US foreign policy to that of the third Reich, and Bush chastising him for strangling Russia's infant democracy in its cradle.

 

Al Jazeera's Rob Reynolds said that against such a backdrop, no one expected any breakthroughs in Kennebunkport and the White House itself had played down expectations of a major announcement.

 

But the US president may want to bring the Kremlin behind tough new penalties aimed at Iran's suspected nuclear weapons programme.

 

Bush aides are not clear what Putin – who requested the meeting on his way to Guatemala, where Olympic officials are picking a host city for the 2014 winter games – wants.

 

But they are braced for the possibility of a surprise on the scale of the one the Russian leader dropped last month in Germany, on the missile defence dispute.

 

Putin had suggested the US share a Russian-controlled radar as part of an anti-missile shield that would protect all of Europe, instead of basing US anti-missile hardware in central Europe.

 

With both leaders' time in office running out, the meeting is likely to be their last extended one and a final opportunity to try to reverse the downward slide in their countries' relations.