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Iran Has no Nuclear Ambitions, Says Russian President - 2003-06-20

Russian President Vladimir Putin says Iran's president has assured him personally that Tehran is prepared to adhere to tight conditions overseeing its nuclear program, which officials in Washington have long feared could be used to develop nuclear weapons. President Putin also urged the West to provide security guarantees to convince North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

President Putin says Iranian President Mohammad Khatami assured him during a telephone call earlier this week that Iran has no secret nuclear ambitions.

On the contrary, President Putin said, he was certain the Iranian leadership is ready to fully meet all demands regarding oversight of its nuclear program, including the signing of an additional protocol for tighter inspections as called for by the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA.

President Putin also reiterated his view that Russia's position on Iran's nuclear program is closer to America's than it might seem. Russia, he said, will base its relations with all countries, including Iran, on the basis of their relations with the IAEA.

President Putin also suggested that the Russian and U.S. positions on the North Korean nuclear crisis were becoming closer. But he stressed that North Korea's security concerns must be addressed.

Mr. Putin said Russia believes the problem must be solved through talks with North Korea that would take into account Pyongyang's concerns. North Korea should not be cornered, he said, nor should the problem be aggravated.

During his annual Kremlin news conference before some 700 Russian and international correspondents, President Putin also fielded a breathtaking array of domestic questions over a nearly three hour period. Questions ranged from what is to be done about communal housing, to crime, caviar and corruption.

He was even asked what about Russia embarrassed him most. President Putin responded, our people's poverty.

Mr. Putin said Russia's citizens have a right to live better, and he said he hoped that through the implementation of numerous economic and legislative reforms, all people in the federation would see a better day. At the same time, he warned there are no fairy-tale endings or magic pills. It will take hard work, he said, and input from the regional and local levels.

President Putin also expressed general satisfaction in the progress of the federal level of government. But he acknowledged there are areas where there is, as he put it, "room for improvement, most notably in the economy."

Such news conferences, still rare in Russian political life, also provide a glimpse of the measure of the man leading the nation. Asked yet again who is Vladimir Putin? Mr. Putin smiled enigmatically before responding that he was the President of the Russian Federation.