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Putin: Smallpox, Anthrax Supplies Safe
November 7, 2001

WASHINGTON (AP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin declared it impossible for someone to buy or steal deadly anthrax or smallpox from his country as some suspect has already happened.

``Those materials have been guarded, were guarded in the Soviet Union, and Russia, very securely,'' Putin said in an interview in the Kremlin with Barbara Walters for ABC's ``20/20'' program. ``So I exclude that possibility. I believe this is true of anthrax and smallpox.''

The interview, conducted Monday, airs Wednesday night.

The highly contagious and deadly smallpox virus was eradicated 21 years ago and is known to survive only in laboratories in the United States and Russia. Germ warfare experts suspect that other countries, including North Korea and Iraq, may have secretly obtained stocks.

Anthrax has been studied for years as a biological weapon with the potential to sicken tens of thousands, including through a Soviet-era germ warfare program.

But Putin insisted Russia is not the source of anthrax spores now circulating in the United States and said his country's smallpox supply is safe.

Putin said it will be possible but very difficult to find Osama bin Laden, head of the al-Qaida terror network who is hiding in Afghanistan.

``It is important, yes, but very difficult,'' he said. Regardless, he said, ``The main player in this should be brought to justice.''

Putin said, however, that capturing bin Laden will not resolve the problem of international terror. It should be fought by not only by force but also by political, economic and social weapons.

``There has got to be a range of efforts on the part of the international community to fight this evil,'' Putin said.

Reaffirming Russia's support for the U.S.-led campaign a week before he meets with President Bush in Washington and at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, Putin said international terror is a common enemy of their two countries. ``The work that we are pursuing together is in our best interests,'' he said.

Putin said his country still was not fully integrated into the international community, but should be.

Responding to a wide range of questions, Putin praised Bush as a man with whom he can do business and as a leader who keeps his word. Putin also indicated he might be ready to strike a deal to clear the way for a U.S. missile defense.

``We could reach quite quickly mutual agreements,'' and the Russian position on a shield ``is quite flexible,'' Putin said.

But he also said a compromise settlement ``can only be found as a result of very intense negotiations.''

Both Putin and Bush have said they want to severely cut back nuclear arsenals, which now number about 6,000 warheads for each country. The Russians have suggested reducing to 1,500 to 2,000. U.S. officials have speculated an accord could be reached at 1,750 to 2,250.

On another front, Putin flatly dismissed U.S. allegations that Russia has provided dangerous weapons technology to Iran. The Russian president rejected as a ``legend'' that Iran is receiving technology for missiles and for weapons of mass destruction from Russia.

``We have not ever sold anything to Iran, out of the range of technology or information, that would help Iran develop missiles, or weapons of mass destruction,'' Putin said.

Russia has some projects with Iran in atomic energy, he said. But ``it has nothing to do with developing nuclear weapons. We are categorically opposed to transferring any technologies to Iran that would help it develop nuclear weapons.''

The issue has been underlined as serious and troubling by U.S. officials, who otherwise speak warmly of growing rapport between Washington and Moscow.

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