'Impeach Bush'

Taking advantage of the heavy media presence set up for the summit, several hundred demonstrators gathered at the resort's Village Green to vent their anger.

Festooned with peace signs, the crowd chanted "impeach Bush."

Mike Miles, 55, wearing prison stripes to symbolise what he called "criminal behaviour" by Bush and Dick Cheney, the vice president, said he was "sick of the war."

Down the road, a small group of counter-demonstrators waved US flags.

With his public approval ratings slipping below 30 per cent, Bush has pleaded for patience with his Iraq strategy in the countdown to a September progress report on a US troop build up intended to stabilize the country.

Though Putin has been among the most outspoken international critics of Bush's Iraq policy, the war is not expected to figure prominently in talks during his visit, which will last less than 24 hours.

Breakthrough unlikely

US and Russian officials have described the meeting as informal and emphasised that big announcements are unlikely on some of the difficult issues, such as a proposed US missile shield in Europe and independence for Kosovo.

Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, said: "One should not expect any breakthroughs to be made or any major decisions to be announced. The point of the meeting is to explain to each other mutual concerns and positions on certain questions."

The two leaders will dine with Bush's father, George Bush, whose presence as a former president is being seen as lending extra prestige to the visit.

Key issues will then be discussed on Monday.

Putin's invitation to the century-old estate marks the first time Bush will host a foreign leader there.

Iran is one topic the White House is eager to raise. Bush plans to try to enlist Putin's support for wider economic sanctions aimed at pressuring Tehran over its nuclear programme.
 
A senior US official said there has been "an increasing convergence in US-Russian views" on Iran's actvities.

Moscow has often worked to soften US proposals against Iran.