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Putin calls missile deal more likely if Obama wins

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia — President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia sauntered into U.S. presidential politics on Thursday, praising President Barack Obama as “a very honest man” and chastising the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, for describing Russia as “without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe.”

Putin was asked about the presidential race during an interview with the state-controlled television network RTV. The interview was recorded earlier this week but broadcast on Thursday to coincide with Putin’s arrival in Vladivostok for the annual Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit conference, which is being held in Russia for the first time.

Putin said he believed that if Obama is re-elected in November, a compromise could be reached on the contentious issue of U.S. plans for a missile defense system in Europe, which Russia has strongly opposed. On the other hand, he said, if Romney becomes president, Moscow’s fears about the missile system — that it is, despite U.S. assurances, actually directed against Russia — would almost certainly prove true.

With a reminder of Romney’s remark about Russia, Putin was asked if he could work with a Romney administration.

“Yes, we can,” he said. “We’ll work with whichever president gets elected by the American people. But our effort will only be as efficient as our partners will want it to be.”

He added a sharp rebuke, accusing Romney of using inflamed rhetoric for political gain.

—David M. Herszenhorn, The New York Times

Singapore’s prime minister warns China on view of US

BEIJING — In an unusual public airing of strategic problems surrounding China’s rise, the prime minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, warned China on Thursday that it should view the United States not as a declining power, but as a nation with the ability to innovate and bounce back.

Speaking at the Central Party School, the prestigious training ground for new members of the Communist Party, Lee also suggested that China try to solve its maritime disputes in the South China Sea regionally, through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, known as ASEAN, rather than country by country.

Lee is the son of Lee Kuan Yew, the longtime leader of Singapore who forged strong relations with China and the United States and successfully balanced his small city-state between the two, and his views carry considerable weight among the Chinese elite.

Lee addressed head-on the question of America’s standing in the world, a subject that fascinates Chinese academics and writers in the state-run news media, many of whom have written caustically in recent months about Washington’s budget difficulties, political gridlock and what they see as a crisis of confidence.

—Jane Perlez, The New York Times

France sends funds to five Syrian civic groups

PARIS — The French government is providing funds to five revolutionary councils in rebel-held parts of Syria to help them restore water supplies, sanitation, health services and bakeries, a senior French diplomat, Eric Chevallier, said Thursday.

French diplomats say that France is not supplying funds for weapons or providing weapons to the rebels, which are made up of a number of disparate groups and are separate from the councils. But they say they are in regular conversation with the rebels, to hear their needs and to encourage them to unite and to protect minorities and democratic values. France also wants to ensure the support of the armed rebels for the program of aid to the civilian councils, the diplomats say.

—Steven Erlanger and David D. Kirkpatrick,
The New York Times