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Putin Says Pressuring North Korea Could Backfire

Russian President Vladimir Putin says North Korea should not be backed into a corner over its nuclear weapons program. Mr. Putin spoke during a nationally-televised, question-and-answer session with ordinary Russians.

Vladimir Putin criticized the North Korea's nuclear test as "inadmissible," but warned pressuring the North could backfire.

"One should never lead the situation into an impasse, one should never put one of the negotiating sides in a position from which it virtually has no way out but one: an escalation of the situation," the Russian president said.

Mr. Putin spoke during an annual live question-and-answer session broadcast on Russian television and radio. He said if the global community wants to resolve the crisis over the North Korea's nuclear test it must "find the right tone."

During the nearly three-hour program, a telephone caller expressed concern that Mr. Putin's second term was nearing an end in 2008. President Putin replied that Russia would be OK and that he plans to retain some influence, but he again ruled out seeking a third-term.

During his fifth multimedia engagement with his electorate Mr. Putin said Russia is developing into, what he called, "a new stage of solid economic growth."

But he acknowledged there will always be problems in a nation as vast as Russia, the main one being, in his view, to eliminate the huge gap between the country's rich and poor.

Mr. Putin also singled out corruption as a burden for his nation.

He said his government is working to increase the salaries of government workers, so they will be less likely to take bribes. But he says the Russian people need to combat the problem by not paying bribes in the first place.

President Putin was asked about unemployment, wages, pensions, and maternity benefits and he answered with a steady cadence of facts and figures.

But he appeared flustered by one caller's claim that contract killings are on the rise in Russia.

President Putin said contract killings are decreasing in Russia. But he said the burden of settling killings, like that of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya last month, remains with the state.

Independent media critics expressed concern the Putin broadcast, like so many Kremlin-controlled events, was nothing more than theater, with the participants and questions heavily staged.

The way in which the questioners were selected is not known, but they included teachers, trade union leaders, servicemen and grandmothers. Questions were gathered from villages and towns across Russia's 11 time zones and one query came from a Russian prison.

Despite all the appearance of openness and accessibility, President Putin remains largely a man of mystery. The former KGB agent was asked only one personal question during the program.

A caller asked the president if he owned a mobile phone. He replied that he had many, though he said he seemed to have little use for them. President Putin said more often than not, he uses the secure phone lines inside the Kremlin.