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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

G-7 Leaders Call Putin 'Brilliant,' 'Impressive'

OKINAWA, Japan -- As an avid practitioner of judo, President Vladimir Putin knows how to turn an opponent's strength to his own advantage and it is a skill he put to good use at this weekend's summit of the Group of Seven industrialized nations and Russia.

In a smooth debut performance on this subtropical Japanese island, Putin skillfully exploited the wealthy countries' eagerness to see Russian reforms succeed and the desire of host nation Japanto avoid mention of awkward topics such as Chechnya.

"Before he was more a guest. Now he's one of the Eight," said EU chief Romano Prodi. From his "brilliant" account of his landmark trip last week to North Korea to his suggestion G-8 leaders stay in touch by e-mail, Putin showed himself engaged, fluent and fully in command of his brief.

Germany, tireless champion of an equal role for Russia, has begun asking aloud whether the separate Group of Seven economic meeting of the United States, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Britain and Canada should be scrapped in favor of a single G-8 summit.

"This was the summit of the full integration of Russia. This was determined in part by the confident but not exaggerated performance of Vladimir Putin. That is for me the most prominent result of this summit," German Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der said.

Confirming Moscow's status as equal partner, a paragraph referring to Russia in the summit's final communique was deleted. "Putin asked us not to mention a single country in the G-8 final document and we did that," said Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato. Moscow had argued any separate mention of Russia would draw undue attention to its different economic situation.

A Japanese official, summing up the overall assessment of the Kremlin chief, said the leaders thought "President Putin's contribution was very valuable." Japan also confirmed that Putin would pay an official visit to Tokyo on September 3-5.

Putin was helped by the meeting's focus on issues where Russia feels strongest f international security including arms control, regional hot spots like North Korea and also the economy, where he won backing for his plans to press long-delayed market reforms.

Even French President Jacques Chirac, whose strong criticism of the military campaign in Chechnya has strained his relations with the Kremlin, gave Putin a warm endorsement. "He explained to us in a particularly frank and clear way the situation in Russia. He didn't try to mask things," Chirac said.

Putin diplomatically paid tribute to Chirac's experience and "encyclopedic knowledge" of many issues.

Western officials noted approvingly that Putin, despite earlier expectations, did not push publicly for a write-off or major rescheduling of Moscow's $42 billion worth of Soviet debt. He and Schr?der quietly agreed in their bilateral meeting to restructure a small portion of the debt Russia owes to its main creditor Germany worth about $4 billion. The two countries plan to sign a bilateral agreement Wednesday.

Putin also declined to play the Slavic card on Belgrade, insisting he would press Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to move toward democracy.

But it was Putin's report on his trip to North Korea that most impressed summit leaders. Schr?der called it "brilliant," while an aide to Britain's Tony Blair said "the prime minister was very impressed."

U.S. President Bill Clinton said Putin convinced him to look into the baffling offer from North Korea to scrap its ballistic missile program in exchange for help in exploring space.

Putin is clearly keen to use Moscow's links with Pyongyang to play the role of honest broker between the impoverished, totalitarian state and the outside world.

Putin found the time and energy to indulge his passion for judo Sunday after the grueling three-day summit.

During his visit to a local sports center, Putin removed his jacket and shoes and went onto the judo mat to face his opponent, a shaven-headed Japanese boy, whom he threw down on the mat before allowing himself to be thrown down as well. Putin told the assembled young judo fans to persevere with their sport because it brought people together and gave a warm hug to a Japanese girl wearing a judo outfit.