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Putin Concerned Over US Nuclear Policy - 2002-04-08

Russian President Vladimir Putin warns the United States against changing its nuclear policy and defends his own country's tilt towards the West. The president's comments came during an interview with Russian and German journalists, on the eve of his visit to Germany.

President Putin said he is worried about some of the comments he has heard out of Washington lately, namely that the United States might be willing to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states and that it might develop lower-grade nuclear warheads for use in regional conflicts. President Putin said that would lower the threshold for using nuclear weapons to a very low and dangerous level.

Recent reports from Washington indicate the American nuclear policy is under review and that Russia could be a specific target, in the future. President Putin says the only good thing is that the reports are coming from people who are not in top jobs in the administration.

The Russian leader said he is optimistic he and President Bush can reach a "historical" agreement on nuclear weapons cuts when the two men meet next month in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Mr. Putin threw his support behind America, following September's terrorist attacks against the United States. He gave the green light for U.S. troop deployment in Russia's "backyard" in Central Asia. But, the Russian leader has come under criticism back home for his pro-American stance. Recent opinion polls show anti-American sentiment is on the rise in Russia and Mr. Putin's political opponents say he has gotten nothing in return for his support.

In the interview, President Putin dismissed such concerns. He said his government has chosen a pro-western policy, not because he is begging for something in return, but, solely because he believes it suits Russia's national interests.

Mr. Putin was speaking with Russian and German reporters before his visit to Germany. Mr. Putin leaves Tuesday to meet with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, in the eastern city, Weimar.