- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 21, 2001

Sen. Jesse Helms, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, criticized President Bush yesterday for "an excessively personal endorsement" of Russian President Vladimir Putin last week.

Following a meeting in Slovenia on Saturday, Mr. Bush told reporters that he found Mr. Putin "very straightforward and trustworthy" and called him "a remarkable leader." In a gesture of friendship, Mr. Bush invited the Russian leader to his ranch in Texas.

But Mr. Helms said the Russian president was "far from deserving" of such praise. "I criticized officials from the previous administration for using nearly those exact words to describe Mr. Putin," the North Carolina Republican said.

The senator then ticked off a litany of concerns about Mr. Putin, including his imposing "the jackboot of repression" on the press, violating arms-control treaties, transferring weapons technology to rogue states and continuing a military crackdown against Chechnya.

Mr. Helms made his comments at the outset of a committee hearing featuring testimony from Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

Mr. Powell defended his president´s performance in his meeting with Mr. Putin and said "a little too much is being made of this language."

"He went in there strong, he came out strong, and he met a man who is strong as well," Mr. Powell said. "The president went in there and made it clear what he believed and what he stood for, and he didn´t blink in the slightest."

Mr. Powell said Mr. Bush didn´t hesitate to raises areas of concern, including the military campaign against Chechnya, arms sales to Iran and repression of religious and media freedoms in Russia.

Mr. Helms, who was generally deferential to the Bush administration in its opening months, has shown more of a willingness to criticize its foreign policy in recent weeks. Last month, he questioned whether the administration was being firm enough with China.

• Distributed by Scripps Howard

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