TIME: Despite the cold war, Russia and the United States have found themselves aligned in many of history's big conflicts: World War I, World War II and now, thanks in large part to your response to 9/11, there seems to be some alignment in the war against Islamic fundamentalist terrorism. With that history in mind, how do you envision the relationship between Russia and the U.S. going forward?
PUTIN: Indeed, Russia and the U.S. were allies during the two tragic conflicts of the Second and the First World Wars, which allows us to think there's something objectively bringing us together in difficult times, and I thinkI believeit has to do with geopolitical interests and also has a moral component. Of course, the cold war marked a tragedy in relations between our two countries, and I wouldn't want to see the vestiges of those relations prevailing in the future. And I'll be frank with you. In the past decade or so, maybe in the last 50 years, the idea that the United States is a unique nation seems to have taken root in the U.S. public psyche. It's perhaps not an absolutely groundless notion. It's a historical phenomenon that in 250 years, a nation could move from a colony into the most prosperous nation of the world and the leader of the world. It is indeed an achievement, a tribute to the talent of the American nation, the American people and an optimal political and economic system. However, as a rule, leaders do not have rights; they mostly have commitments and obligations. When they come to think that they have rights, they tend to lose their position and authority. When we used to have two world groupings, the so-called Western bloc headed by the United States and the so-called Eastern bloc headed by the Soviet Union, both sides instilled strict discipline among members of their communities. That worked at the time. Today, when the vast majority of actors in the international scene do not feel such an external threat, this manner of conduct of dictating to anyoneplease don't take offense at thisindicates a lack of understanding and utter rejection. Today other forms and instruments of international intercourse are called for, as well as other means of countering the prevailing threats. Today to be successful, one must be able to reach agreements, to compromise. The ability to compromise is not a diplomatic politeness toward a partner but rather taking into account and respecting your partner's legitimate interests.
TIME: Can you give us an example?
PUTIN: The North Korean nuclear issue. We were full of patience. And we treated the issue very seriously. We were thinking about each other's interests and at the same time about the interests of the country in question, the problems, the issues we were trying to address. Based on such an approach, in the end we resolved the issue to a large extent. At the same time, where we fail to be guided by those basic principles, where we push forward some economic or political self-interest, we fail to arrive at solutions that would realistically address the issue. You mentioned terrorism, and here I wouldn't add to terrorism such an attribute as Islamic. In our view, terrorismand I'm convinced terrorism doesn't have national, ethnic or religious attributesis an international phenomenon and radicals can be found in any environment, in any nation and in any religion. From time to time, something abates, something surfaces, these things are fluid. We're not encountering religious demonstrations but rather an ideology of intolerance, regardless of what colors it paints itself. Where we try to take into account each other's interest, we achieve lasting results. Where we cannot abandon our political or economic self interest, we fail to find such solutions. It is productive to behave precisely in such a way, taking into account each other's interests, and of other international actors. This understanding is now gaining momentum and gaining authority. As an example, I would cite the recent Middle East conference in Annapolis. I'm convinced that President Bush has taken upon himself an enormous personal burden, and I would like to congratulate you as a nation that that risk was a worthwhile endeavor, quite a serious step toward resolving one of the most complex and acute crises in the world. For our part, we would do everything to support him, and I would do everything to work together precisely in this vein.
TIME: What do you think should be done in Iraq?
PUTIN: Well, our position on Iraq is well-known. From the very beginning, I considered that it was a mistake, and I was public about it. The developments in recent years have proved that we were right. If one looks at the map of the world, it's rather difficult to find Iraq, and one would think it rather easy to subdue such a small country, but this undertaking is enormous. Iraq is a small but very proud nation, and problems have emerged that were not apparent previously. People consider the occupation not as a fight against Saddam's regime. They take it as a personal matter, and terrorism is capitalizing on this, and terrorists who were not present in Iraq are now present there. As for what we do today and in the near future, overall I agree with President Bush when he says that everything must be done so that the Iraqi authorities are able to deal with security issues on their own. They need help in creating their army, security forces and police, so that questions of this order can be handled by the Iraqis themselves. What we differ over is that the U.S. believes it is impossible to impose time frames for the withdrawal. In my view, it would prompt the Iraqi authorities to be more proactive. If they know they will always have American armed forces behind their backs, they may feel comfortable under such an umbrella, but if and when they know that the deadline is there, they would be forced to think about what they need to do from then on. At the end of the day, that's a decision that we must take together. At the level of the United Nations.
TIME: Undoubtedly, you've followed the revelation by the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate that Iran does not have an active nuclear program. You had months before, I believe, said the same thing yourself. What was your reaction to why the U.S. government revealed this now and does this make war with Iran less likely?
PUTIN: Well, that's a question best addressed to the CIA director and the top managers of the U.S. Administration. Why did they reveal it only today, or reveal it at all? Why did they destroy interrogation tapes and so on and so forth? If they released that report not in order to deflect Iran's attention from real preparations for hostilitieswhich is theoretically possible and which I believe is extremely dangerous, because in my view, any military action against Iran would be a mistake.But in order to give an objective, unbiased description of the situation, it only supports the idea that Russia's foreign-policy stance is guided by objective and verified data and intelligence. It is also proof of the fact that within the U.S. Administration, there are people who believe that it's better the truth be told.
TIME: The American media have portrayed your nomination of Dmitry Medvedev as President, and the likelihood that you will become Prime Minister, as an effort by you to succeed yourself, becoming a so-called national leader. You have mentioned Franklin Roosevelt as a model and, of course, FDR did run for a third and fourth term, but after that, the American presidency was regulated to two terms. A lot of Americans feel President Putin is trying to get around that by assuring a leadership position for himself in the future by making the prime ministership strong and the presidency weak.
PUTIN: One could have thought that, if I indeed were to either change the Russian constitution to suit my cherished and beloved self, dropping the limit on terms, or if I were to change the constitutional legal correlation between the offices of the government and the President. I believe that neither is admissible nor acceptable for Russia. Russia is a nation, like the United States, with a balanced but strong presidential power, and I am adamantly against stifling and restricting the authority of the President. I'm prepared to accept Dmitri Medvedev's offer to serve as the Premier, in which case I would be guided by the constitution and law within the authority as prescribed by law. Roads, housing, educationthese are the things that are the most important to our people. At the same time, the key prerogatives of administrative personnel and the political area and the defense area of course would remain the purview of the President. Now speaking about that idea of a national leader, I believe that is not an administrative or even a political category. It cannot be defined in terms of the number of telephone units on your desk. It's a moral category based on the trust of the people. Speaking of our political model, we have analyzed very attentively the experiences of other countries throughout the world and what has happened in the history of Russia and other countries. Roosevelt is a very notable figure and we treat him with great sympathy. He was a figure of global stature, our ally throughout the Second World War. Let us remember in what period he was President. First, there was the depression in the United States. It was he who instilled optimism into the souls of the American people and trust in the future. He won the war against the Nazis, as our ally, together with the Russian people, but he was the head of the United States at the time, and at the time, perhaps, such forms of political construction as unlimited presidential terms were called for. Later, the American people decided otherwise, which is the absolute right of the American nation. How we arrange our own business is up to the Russian people. I believe that the presidential term should be limited.
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