”Fox News Sunday“ host Chris Wallace: Back when you and President Bush first met in 2001, he famously said he looked you in the eye and he got a sense of your soul. Now, some U.S. officials complain that you have rolled back democratic reform. They say that you have differences with U.S. policy on Iraq, Iran and North Korea. You sell arms to Syria, to China, to President Chavez of Venezuela. Are you going back to the bad old days of the Kremlin?
President Vladimir Putin: I reaffirm this is not the case. I will probably start with the fact that using our meeting today, I would like to express most sincere condolences regarding the most recent tragedy in Louisiana. We have very sincere grief with you American people regarding all those victims, and from the very heart we have our compassion to Americans. We are aware of the fact that the families who had their dearest one perish — nothing will probably help. Still, we would like to express our solidarity and moral support.
Now, regarding our policies versus U.S. There will be no rolling back, at least from the part of Russia, to the past. We are not adversaries. We are partners in many areas of international activities, and I hope this is going to happen, and this is going to happen because the interests of our countries and peoples, to a large extent coincide. We're helping each other in economy. Just look at energy, for one. We cannot work efficiently and achieve positive results on key issues of international agenda.
You've mentioned a part of those, of course. These are the areas like Iraqi problem, Iranian nuclear problem, North Korean problem. There is another one you haven't mentioned, without participation of Russia and the U.S. it will not be possible to move forward, that's international security and disarmament dossier (ph). And here, we are partners number on in the world.
We've been moving forward quite efficiently, and I hope this is going to happen further.
Wallace: Let's talk about some of the world's flashpoints. The U.S. and leading European nations want to take action against Iran's nuclear program. If the International Atomic Energy Agency votes on the issue of referring Iran to the U.N. Security Council, how will Russia vote?
Vladimir Putin: Well, if you're aware of the provisions of international law, you should know that any member of Security Council can initiate any issue to be discussed at the Security Council level of the United Nations. And naturally, we'll be guided by the fact that this might happen. And there is another procedure used by IAEA, and if IAEA were to vote it in, then we'll have to work with our partners in the Security Council on it.
Wallace: What would it take for Russia to agree to impose sanctions against Iran?
Vladimir Putin: Well, you know, the tougher we're going to formulate our positions with you now, there will be more problems that we can probably reach a dead end. Today, the Iranian side is working sufficiently in cooperation with IAEA, and Mr. ElBaradei had told us so. So, let's proceed from the circumstances of today.
I've just met with the president of Iran in New York, and he assured me that the Iranian side wants to continue negotiations with the European three at least, and we're going to proceed from there. We stand ready to coordinate our activities, both with American and European partners, and I must say that our positions here are quite close.
At any rate, we have a joint position on one major issue: All of us categorically are against the proliferation of nuclear arms at the account of Iran.
Wallace: But sir, the Iranians have lied for years about their nuclear program. Are you willing to trust the ayatollahs with the safety of the world?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, Iran has erred several times in their relations with IAEA. Iran has directly stated that they have revealed, opened all their works, and now they are openly cooperating with the inspectors of IAEA.
Also, regarding the past record, and I hope this dynamics will continue.
Wallace: Let's turn to Iraq. You say that the Bush administration should set a timetable for U.S. and other foreign troops to leave that country. President Bush says that a timetable will only encourage the insurgents to wait out the U.S.
Vladimir Putin: As regards the statement of President Bush, yes, there is logic in it. This is indeed so. On our part, we proceed from the assumption that sooner or later foreign troops will anyway have to leave Iraq.
In our opinion, the fact of their presence there pushes armed opposition to perpetrate acts of violence. So this should be a balanced decision. Adopt it, and the troops at any rate, foreign troops, will have to leave the territory of Iraq.
But we also agree with those partners of ours, including Americans, who believe that this should happen and will continue according to the possibilities presented by their own security forces of Iraq to ensure security of their own country.
Wallace: What is your sense of a timetable? How soon do you believe the U.S. can pull its troops out of Iraq?
Vladimir Putin: Like I said, it will depend on the rate of the armed forces — security forces of Iraq getting to their feet. I believe it should be within 12 months or more, 24 months, something about that, something like that.
It will all depend on the specific situation in Iraq. But it would be right if we were to define those time frames. That would introduce some order and make everybody move in the right direction. Without it, there will be no obligations to be fulfilled.
Wallace: Mr. President, as you know, you are criticized in the U.S. for rolling back democratic reforms for state control of the broadcast media, for the appointment of regional governors instead of direct elections.
You've said that the U.S. should not preach to Russia about democracy. Do you have any doubts which country is more truly democratic?
Vladimir Putin: I wouldn't like to give any assessments here. But I'm convinced that democracy cannot be exported from one country to another, like you cannot expert revolutions, ideology.
Democracy is an internal subject of the developing society. There are fundamentals of democracy, and they should be understood universally in different countries. Then there are many related things to democracy.
There is a number of components which are dependent on the history of any given country, its traditions, and a large number of similar components. This was my idea when I talked about the development of democracy in Russia and its specific features.
Wallace: Do you see flaws in American democracy?
Vladimir Putin: Well, I wouldn't like to talk about failures or flaws. I will say that democracy is not possible without effectively working legal system. And I think you will concur with me that there are quite a few gaps in the legal system of America, like in the electorate legislation.
Has America not been confronted with difficulties electoral process? Don't you see that there are problems having to do with the need to improve this legislation?
Wallace: Such as?
Vladimir Putin: It was difficult to compute number of votes during the pre-electorate campaign. It was difficult to make final assessments, so on and so forth. Well, you must remember these things. Should I recall these (inaudible)? And many countries are faced with it. There is nothing new about it.
Now, as regards Russia, as regards Russia, our legal system, in fact, is still in its dynamic process of development and we will be pleased to listen to good advice of our partners. We are not prepared to listen to teaching, of course, or tutoring. I don't think that is admissible.
Wallace: Under your constitution, you are barred from running again for president in 2008. Are there any circumstances — political instability, a new wave of terrorism — under which you would consider seeking another term as president?
Vladimir Putin: Well, you know, I believe that what really matters in reinforcement of the Russian democracy today — that's stability, stability in the country, in society, which cannot be ensured otherwise, but only through improvement of legislation and through the existing constitution.
Under no circumstances am I prepared to change the constitution.
Wallace: Are you familiar with an American civil war president named General Sherman? In 1884, some people wanted him to run for president, and he made a famous statement, ”If nominated, I will not run. If elected, I will not serve.“
Are you prepared here today to make the same statement, a Sherman statement about not running for president in 2008?
Vladimir Putin: You want me to swear on blood, and for 100th time I state publicly which I already said 99 times. I think I have quite clearly formulated my answer to your previous question. That should be enough.
Wallace: So you will not run.
Vladimir Putin: I have answered your question. I will not.
Wallace: Finally, I know that you have studied English for years. I'd like to invite you in these days after Hurricane Katrina to deliver a final message to the American people in English, if you will, sir.
Vladimir Putin: Unfortunately, my English is in such a status that to state such serious things in English — I would not probably attempt to do that now. But you should not doubt my feelings personally and the feelings of the Russian people.
We are sincere in our compassion to the American people in general, because this is about shock, a catastrophe of such a scale, which I don't even remember whoever was subjugated to anything like that in the world. And we're really feeling grief and compassion to any American family who have got these casualties. And that's very sincere.
Wallace: A single sentence to the American people in English?
Vladimir Putin: Thank you for your hospitality.
Wallace: Mr. President, thank you. Spasibo. Thank you very much for talking with us, sir.