MOSCOW (AP) _ Testing public reaction, President Boris Yeltsin's spokesman said on a late night television program that the president may seek a third term in 2000.

While Yeltsin himself has repeatedly said he intends to step down after his current term ends, spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky and other Kremlin spin doctors have long been hinting that the 67-year-old leader may run again.

The issue of Yeltsin's participation in the election ``remains open,'' Yastrzhembsky said on the Vremechko talk show Wednesday on Russia's TV-Center channel.

Yeltsin's statements on the issue ``make it evident that he has not made a final decision'' on whether to take part in the next presidential race, Yastrzhembsky said.

However, Yeltsin's own remarks have been consistently against a run. For example, he said in March that he would be ``dropping out of the elections.''

The conflicting statements appear aimed at testing voters' response, which has so far been mixed. Many say the constitution's limit on two terms and the president's questionable health should rule out another run.

Yastrzhembsky tackled both arguments, insisting that Yeltsin is fit and ``very active'' and reiterating the Kremlin claim that the president's first term doesn't count since it began back in the Soviet times.

Russia's constitutional court is expected to rule on the issue later this year. Earlier this week, Yeltsin met with the court's chairman Marat Baglai, but the Kremlin kept mum on whether they discussed the subject.

Other potential candidates include former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, and former national security chief Alexander Lebed.