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Putin calls on U.S. to set pullout date in Iraq

  • Story Highlights
  • Russian leader says U.S. is engaged in "pointless" battle against Iraqis
  • Vladimir Putin also warns U.S. on missile defense system in Eastern Europe
  • Putin's remarks come during his annual televised question-and-answer session
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MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday called on the United States to set a date for withdrawal from Iraq, saying the U.S. military campaign had become a "pointless" battle against the Iraqi people.

Putin used a live Russian TV and radio broadcast to criticize U.S. policy in Iraq, which he said was aimed in part at seizing oil reserves.

The Russian leader's latest broadside against U.S. foreign policy came during his annual question-and-answer session with the Russian people.

Putin said the American battle in Iraq was "useless" and "totally counterproductive" because it was against the Iraqi people.

Putin said he agreed with President Bush that U.S.-led coalition forces should only withdraw once the Iraqi government was in full control of the country.

However, he said the lack of a deadline for withdrawal meant there was no impetus for the Iraqi leadership to take control of the security situation. "It's totally unacceptable to keep occupation forces there forever," he added.

He also repeated his warning against U.S. efforts to put elements of a missile defense system in Eastern Europe and confirmed his plans to step down from the presidency next year.

Broadcast on state-run television, the annual "call-in show," as it was termed in the Russian media, featured Putin answering questions put to him by Russians citizens.

Putin was asked about comments attributed to former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright suggesting that Siberia had too many natural resources to belong to one country.

Putin called those remarks "a kind of political erotica" and compared the situation with Iraq.

"It's a small country which is not quite able to protect itself but which has tremendous oil reserves. So what's going on there? We see perfectly well that they're good at shooting but not too good at establishing order," he said.

The broadcast was well-received in Russia, where Putin has used the call-ins to project the image of a leader responding directly to voters' concerns.

One Muscovite said: "I've watched the news, and I liked what Putin said. I think he's a brave and noble man." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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