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Putin Answers Americans' Questions During Live Call-In Show - 2001-11-16

Russian President Vladimir Putin has wound up his trip to the United States by facing the American public on an informal live radio call-in program. The questions Thursday night ran the gamut from Russia's position on a controversial missile treaty to criticism of Moscow's crackdown in Chechnya to President Putin's favorite book.

Just before President Putin arrived one hour late for his live radio interview, he had visited the ruins of the World Trade Center in New York.

"What I wanted to do was not just to visit that place, but to pay my respects to those who had suffered in this tragedy," President Putin said. "And I wanted to attract attention to this tragedy, to do everything that I can to make sure nothing like this ever happens in the future."

Mr. Putin said Russians have a special understanding for this kind of terrorist activity - pointing to bomb explosions at apartment buildings around the country two years ago that killed hundreds of Russian citizens.

During their summit meetings this week, Mr. Putin and President Bush showed solidarity against terrorism and also agreed on significant reductions to nuclear warheads. But the two leaders agreed to disagree on one thorny issue - the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which President Bush says is outdated.

Mr. Putin said he believes the 1972 ABM treaty is flexible enough to accomodate a new security relationship between Russia and the United States. But he said he is confident the two countries will be able to reach some kind of agreement.

"No matter which scenario unfolds, our bilateral relationship will not deteriorate from the level that it is at now. And we, at the end the day, will be able to arrive at a solution that will be acceptable for everyone involved," Mr. Putin said.

When asked about Russia's opinion on NATO membership for the Baltic nations, Mr. Putin did not completely oppose it, but instead said NATO enlargement makes no sense to him.

In response to questions about Moscow's tough actions in Chechnya, Mr. Putin gave a lengthy answer, but basically said it is an internal Russian matter.

On lighter, more personal questions, Mr. Putin named Tolstoy, Chekov and Gogol as his favorite writers. He also talked about his love of Judo, telling listeners he received his black belt when he was 18-years-old.

He thanked the American people for giving him what he described as a warm and cordial welcome to the United States. Mr. Putin repeated an invitation to President Bush to come to Russia during a period know as the "White Nights" - from late May to mid-June. He said that's when the daylight is long and the country is at its most beautiful.