HAMPTON, New Hampshire (Reuters) - Sen. Hillary Clinton, campaigning on Sunday ahead of New Hampshire's critical presidential primary, declared in response to a voter's question that Russian President Vladimir Putin "doesn't have a soul."
"Bush really premised so much of our foreign policy on his personal relationships with leaders, and I just don't think that's the way a great country engages in diplomacy," Clinton said to voters in Hampton, New Hampshire. The state holds the nation's first presidential nominating primary on Tuesday.
"This is the president that looked in the soul of Putin, and I could have told him, he was a KGB agent," Clinton said. "By definition he doesn't have a soul. I mean, this is a waste of time, right? This is nonsense, but this is the world we're living in right now."
Clinton's comments, which drew laughs from the crowd, referred to a well-known remark Bush made upon first meeting Putin in 2001 when the U.S. president said, "I was able to get a sense of his soul."
Critics have called the remark naïve of Bush, to think the Russian leader was committed to democratic change. Aides have acknowledged Bush has grown more realistic about Putin, who has become increasingly harsh in his criticism of Washington.
Putin, named Time magazine's "Person of the Year" for 2007, has promoted a big military build-up in Russia and verbal attacks on the West reminiscent of the Cold War. He was a former KGB spy in East Germany.
Clinton's remark came in response to a question about foreign relations. In her answer, she talked about nations that offer safe havens to terrorists and about deterrents to so-called "loose nukes," or unprotected and unaccounted-for nuclear material that could be used to make weapons.
Putin is a somewhat popular topic with U.S. presidential candidates. Republican Sen. John McCain, in a newspaper interview last month, said: "I looked into his eyes and saw three letters: a K, a G and a B."
New Hampshire's primary is the next battleground in the state-by-state process of choosing Republican and Democratic candidates for November's election to replace President George W. Bush.
(Editing by Sandra Maler)