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Bush Praises Putin for Help in Effort to Avert Iran, N. Korean Nuclear Intentions - 2003-07-02

President Bush says Russian President Vladimir Putin is playing a helpful role in efforts to prevent Iran and North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. Mr. Bush says progress is being made.

Iran and North Korea's nuclear intentions have been discussed numerous times by the two leaders. And President Bush says these concerns were raised once again during their latest telephone conversation Wednesday.

Mr. Bush did not go into detail, but he did say Russia's cooperation has been helpful. He offered specific praise for President Putin's efforts to keep Iran from developing nuclear arms.

"I thanked him for keeping the pressure on the Iranian government to dismantle any notions they might have of building a nuclear weapon," the president said.

Mr. Putin promised such action during his last meeting with President Bush, a brief session on June first in St. Petersburg. Russia has leverage with Tehran on the issue, because it is helping Iran build a nuclear power plant and the Iranian government says more may be in the offing.

The current project has come under criticism from the Bush administration, which says oil-rich Iran may have other designs for the nuclear power reactor. Russia's assurances that it will monitor the project have eased tensions over the issue a bit, as has its strong stand on North Korea's nuclear intentions.

President Bush took note of the Russian help during a brief session with reporters, saying without assistance from Vladimir Putin and other world leaders, the North Korean problem will not be resolved.

"And I appreciate his understanding that the best way to deal with North Korea is to do so in a multinational forum," said Mr. Bush, "where the United States and China and South Korea and Japan and, hopefully, Russia all sit down with the North Koreans and make it clear that the world expects them to dismantle a nuclear weapons program, and at the same time will be willing to help the starving North Korean people."

Mr. Bush joked that the impetus for the call from President Putin may have had nothing whatsoever to do with weighty matters of international relations. He said the Russian leader may have just wanted to wish him an early happy birthday. President Bush turns 57 on Sunday.