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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Hints Solution on Iraq Possible

NOVO-OGARYOVO, Moscow Region -- President Vladimir Putin signaled Saturday that he is ready to make a deal with U.S. President George W. Bush on postwar Iraq during the upcoming Camp David summit, calling it a "can-do situation" and holding out the possibility of sending Russian troops to serve under a U.S. commander.

Putin, who along with the leaders of France and Germany led the anti-war opposition before U.S. troops invaded Iraq in March, sounded a much more conciliatory note before his four-day visit to the United States. He said his position on a new UN resolution on Iraq was "quite liberal" compared with others and "different from that taken by France and Germany."

"Theoretically we don't exclude more active involvement of Russia in the restoration of Iraq, including participation of our military in the normalization of the situation," Putin told U.S. journalists at his country residence. "To us, it doesn't matter who is going to head this operation. This could very well be the American military. What matters here is that this decision be taken by the Security Council of the United Nations and spell out the terms."

Putin quickly added that he had no immediate plans to join a multinational occupation force. "In practical terms at present, the question of sending Russian troops is not on the agenda," he said. "It's not even being considered now."

Putin heads to New York on Wednesday, where he will address the UN General Assembly, and then to Camp David for his second U.S. summit with Bush. Like Bush, Putin has moved to heal the rift between Washington and Moscow in the five months since U.S. forces toppled Saddam Hussein's government, although he noted Saturday that the problems in Iraq since then have vindicated his opposition to the war.

Putin addressed the matter during a four-hour, 10-minute interview with U.S. news organizations, including The Washington Post, at his pastoral tree-lined estate outside Moscow, his first such session in nearly two years. Relaxed, talkative, but rarely conceding a point, he tackled a wide range of subjects and demonstrated the results of English lessons by answering a few questions without waiting for translation and occasionally correcting the interpreter.

Putin frequently assumed a tone of friendship toward the United States and his "open and fair" friend "George," stating midway through the session that he had deliberately avoided saying anything that might be seen as critical while television cameras were in the room.

But after the cameras were gone, he did bristle at what he termed the "double standards" of U.S. criticism of some of his policies, particularly in Chechnya.

Told that a State Department official a few days ago condemned "deplorable violations of human rights" by federal forces in Chechnya, Putin lashed back at the critic. "We have a proverb in Russia -- in every family there will be somebody who is ugly or retarded." He went on to complain that U.S. officials met with Chechen "criminals" and suggested that the United States was in no position to criticize anyone else for human rights violations.

"Are you sure everything is all right with human rights [in Iraq]? ... Or take Afghanistan. Are you sure that everything is so good with human rights there during hostilities or even now? Or should I recall for you the tragic events that took place?"

He then raised the situation of prisoners held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, including some Russian citizens, who have not been charged with a crime. "Are they protected? Do they have any relief in terms of human rights? Who are they? If we seek to find problems which would complicate interstate relations, we will find them."

Putin maintained he had shown great restraint in response to Chechen terrorist attacks and defended the political process he has set in motion in Chechnya that will culminate with an Oct. 5 presidential election. He denied that the legitimacy of that election was undermined by all serious rivals to his hand-picked administrator being thrown off the ballot or given a Kremlin job to drop out of the race.

"This is a matter of tactics employed in the pre-election campaign," he said.

He said he had no regrets about the commando raid on a Moscow theater seized by Chechen guerrillas last year, though 129 hostages died after breathing the gas pumped in by authorities. He asserted the gas was not the cause.