Bill Clinton Makes Joke About Putin

ReutersClinton speaking at a session of the World Economic Forum on Thursday.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton must have thought he'd heard it all.

But in a new era of billion-dollar bailouts, state control of the economy and bank nationalization, he discovered an unexpected champion of liberal markets: Vladimir Putin.

"This is the first I've heard of Prime Minister Putin coming out for free enterprise," Clinton told an audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday, a day after the Russian leader warned that too much government involvement in the economy could be "dangerous" and cautioned against "blind faith in the state's omnipotence."

Putin has often been criticized for exerting state control over Russia's key industries such as oil and gas.

Clinton joked, "I hope it works for him."

After chuckles from the crowd, the philanthropist and husband of new U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton took a more serious tone and described the challenges of a world that he said was "in so much trouble."

Clinton said the United States needed to assume global responsibility for the crisis and for spurring international recovery, as Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao called for on Wednesday at the forum.

"The Chinese premier was right: It all started in the United States," Clinton said. "America has to lead the way."

Putin, who has also blamed the United States for the crisis, met with Bill Clinton on Wednesday, and they discussed the world economic situation as well as Russia-U.S. relations, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Putin and Clinton had "a rather long conversation" at a reception given by Putin to forum delegates, Peskov said Thursday, Interfax reported. "The conversation was rather friendly and informal," he said.

(AP, MT)