Putin's Take on Bush? 'Enjoyable'

TIMES STAFF WRITER

President Vladimir V. Putin engaged in his own post-summit spin control Monday, saying that while he respects President Bush, the two leaders certainly do not see eye to eye on security issues.

In a lengthy Kremlin interview with a group of American reporters, Putin described the U.S. president as "a nice person to talk to" but insisted that on matters of substance, they mostly agreed to disagree.

"The president turned out to be a very attentive listener, and very interested," Putin said. "I found him an enjoyable conversationalist and an enjoyable man."

But when it comes to assessing threats and formulating defenses, Putin said, "We so far do not have a common position."

Putin's comments contrasted with some summit spin from Washington, which has suggested that Putin signaled a willingness to compromise on missile defense and the Antiballistic Missile Treaty--which the United States wants to scrap and Russia wants to keep.

Putin insisted that abandoning the 1972 treaty would only make it easier for third countries to develop nuclear arms. And he warned that it would be foolhardy to expect missile defense to provide true security.

"It's like a bullet hitting a bullet. Is it possible today or not? Today experts say that it is impossible to achieve this," Putin said. "And the experience of the real tests demonstrates that today it is impossible."

Putin said the major achievement of the one-day summit in Slovenia was an agreement that the two countries will work together to assess global security threats. Russia accuses the United States of exaggerating the potential threat from so-called rogue states like North Korea and Iran, and it is sensitive to suggestions that Washington still sees it as a potential enemy.

He complained that the United States is modifying a radar system on an island off the coast of Norway, which is near Russia but half a world away from any potential rogue state.

"What 'rogue' are we talking about?" he asked.

He also warned the United States that any attempt to impose its will on the rest of the world will backfire.

"When we hear that some program or other will be carried out 'with or without us'--well, we cannot force anyone to cooperate with us, nor will we try to," Putin said. "We have offered to work together. If that is not needed, fine. We are ready to act on our own."

The interview was the first time since Putin came to power 18 months ago that he has made himself available to American reporters. He answered a few questions about himself and his background in the KGB, which he said helped him learn to absorb large amounts of information and instilled "patriotism and a love of country."

On the whole, Putin's tone was positive, indicating that although Russia and the United States have much that divides them, they are united in the determination to resolve those differences.

"Our informal words created a situation that can be characterized as a high level of trust," he said. "Today we can say with assurance that we are satisfied that we have such a partner. We hope this will lead to positive developments."

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Times wire services contributed to this report.

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