'Wily' Putin evasive about successor plans

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WASHINGTON, Oct 17 (Reuters) U S President George W Bush said today he has pressed Vladimir Putin about his plans for a handover of power next year but the Russian president has been ''wily'' and offered little information.

Russians are scheduled to choose a new president in March 2008.

Though Putin is not eligible to run after two consecutive terms in office, there has been speculation he might try to maintain some grasp on power fueled by his comment that he might become prime minister after leaving the presidency.

''I have no idea what he's going to do,'' Bush told a news conference.

Bush said he had raised the subject of the transition of power with Putin when the two met on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Sydney last month.

''I tried to, you know, get it out of him who's going to be his successor, what he intends to do. And he was wily. He wouldn't tip his hand,'' Bush said.

Bush, who famously said in 2001 that he trusted Putin because he had ''gotten a sense of his soul,'' has sought to cultivate a friendship with the Russian president but emphasizes that they have differences on a number of issues.

The U S president, defending himself against criticism at home that his policy toward Putin was naive, told the news conference he was unsure if Russia had moved beyond its tradition of centralized power.

''In terms of whether or not it's possible to reprogram the kind of basic of Russian DNA which is centralized authority -- that's hard to do,'' Bush said.

REUTERS RSA RN2315

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