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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

American Reporters Pay Visit To Putin

President Vladimir Putin said Saturday that he was "very optimistic" that a compromise could be found with the United States on missile defense and that he was bringing new proposals to his meetings with U.S. President George W. Bush this week.

"We see the capability to negotiate on the U.S. side and we have the same capability, but we want to know what we'll be negotiating about, in military and technological terms," Putin told a group of American journalists gathered around a round, leather-topped table in the wood-panelled Kremlin Library.

Putin declined to elaborate on the initiatives he planned to raise at the meetings in Washington and Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, saying he wanted to present them to Bush directly, not through the newspapers. And he praised Bush for agreeing to tie negotiations on missile defense to nuclear weapons cuts.

Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP

Putin gesturing during a meeting with American journalists in the Kremlin Library late Saturday, before leaving on his first U.S. trip.

"We know the president's view that strategic offensive weapons can and must be reduced. This is a compromise in the right direction," Putin said.

Russia has proposed new limits on U.S. and Russian stockpiles of no more than 2,000 long-range warheads for each country, down from a current total of about 6,000 each. The Bush administration was said to be considering 1,750 to 2,250 warheads apiece.

Putin said that while Russia was ready to discuss a compromise on U.S. missile defense plans, it must know specifically what in the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty stands in the way of Washington's proposed missile shield.

"We are also ready for a compromise. We should see what specific compromise proposals our American partners have," Putin said. He said that it would be up to experts to set specific parameters for both offensive and defensive weapons.

The evening interview stretched until midnight, and Putin paused only to sip tea from a white china cup with the Kremlin seal, nibble pastries and step in once to correct his translator.

He raised many of his favorite themes -- the ties between Chechen rebels and their "teacher," Osama bin Laden, Russia's desire for a more substantive relationship with NATO -- and occasionally broke his poker-faced delivery to crack a joke.

"You don't remember what ... leader it was who said he might be a scoundrel, but he's our scoundrel?" Putin asked, parrying a question about Russia's relations with Western foes such as Iraq.

On the eve of his first trip to the United States, Putin expressed confidence that U.S.-Russian relations had taken an irreversible turn for the better. He said that Cold War rivalries and the fears they generated were partly to blame for allowing the growth of extremism -- including in Afghanistan, where international terrorist training bases were established.

The United States "did nothing to prevent the creation of the Taliban," and the Soviet Union responded by supporting U.S. foes. "I think we should end this vicious circle, and I feel that together with President Bush, we are in a position to do that," Putin said, indicating that Russia would accept a U.S. role in Central Asia, a region it considers its own sphere of influence.

Asked about bin Laden's claim that he has nuclear and chemical weapons, Putin said the threat could be a bluff but nevertheless should be taken seriously. "I wouldn't overestimate the danger but it would also be wrong to downplay it," he said. "We know about bin Laden's links with radical circles in Pakistan, and Pakistan is a nuclear power."

"In that respect, we must support General Musharraf in his efforts to consolidate his country," Putin said.

He flatly denied that any Russian or former Soviet weapons of mass destruction could get into the hands of terrorists. "It's unlikely that the terrorists in Afghanistan have weapons of mass destruction, but we can't neglect a chance that they may have them," he added. "In any case, they can't be of Soviet or Russian origin, I'm absolutely sure of that."

Putin said he wasn't looking for any particular payback from the United States in exchange for Russia's support of the U.S.-led action against terror. "In the first place, we would like our joint struggle against terrorism to lead to positive results, that terrorism not only in Afghanistan but the entire world be destroyed, uprooted, liquidated," he said.

Russia would also "like to have a new quality in our relations and have in the United States a reliable and predictable partner," he added. "This top task is more important than getting any momentary material advantages."

However, he indicated that Russia was also looking for an end to what it considers discriminatory economic treatment by the United States, and for a more substantive, decision-making role in its partnership with NATO, with which it cooperates in peacekeeping.

Putin said that in addition to improving ties with the West, he would continue to cultivate relations with countries such as North Korea and Iraq -- countries that the West considers possible proliferators of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

"There are no scoundrels among our partners," Putin said. "The biggest mistake would be to isolate any country from the international community."

Speaking about Russian assistance to the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, Putin said that along with air corridors and "very valuable intelligence information," Russia also had supplied "tens of millions dollars worth of military-technical assistance" to Afghan opposition forces fighting the Taliban.

Putin also claimed that Russia was providing assistance to the U.S.-led action against terror by fighting radical Arab mercenaries in Chechnya, who would otherwise go to fight against Americans.