NOVO-OGARYOVO, Russia (AP) _ He didn't go overboard with praise for Washington, but he didn't repeat his comment that United States is ``Comrade Wolf,'' ready to eat up its enemies. Vladimir Putin spoke in measured tones Friday night about the relationship between Russia and the United States, saying there were more pluses than minuses. But he warned Washington about NATO expansion and signaled that Russia won't blindly follow the Americans into sanctions against Iran.

Overall, the Russian president's remarks at a dinner for news agency executives from the Group of Eight countries were among his warmest in recent times about the United States.

In his annual address to Parliament on May 10, Putin called for Russia to build up its armed forces and sounded warnings over U.S. policy.

``We are aware what is going on in the world,'' he said. Borrowing from a Russian fairy tale, he said ``Comrade wolf knows whom to eat, he eats without listening, and he's clearly not going to listen to anyone.''

Friday night, however, he said he was ``satisfied with the level and quality'' of U.S.-Russian relations. He said disagreements between the two powers are ``tactical,'' while ``the things that unite us are of a strategic character.''

In combatting terrorism, ``we are more than partners,'' he said over scallops, quail and rack of lamb at his residence outside Moscow.

He said other foundations of the U.S.-Russia relationship are growing U.S. investment in Russia and joint efforts to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction. He praised the United States for its readiness to join talks with Iran over its nuclear program, though he said it's too early to talk about sanctions that Washington has promoted if Iran doesn't stop uranium enrichment.

There is no lack of strain in U.S.-Russian ties. Moscow wants NATO to stop expanding into the former Soviet bloc, and wants Washington to end Soviet-era laws that bar the Russians from importing products that could be used for military purposes.

Vice President Dick Cheney accused Putin's government in May of rolling back democracy inside the country and strong-arming its ex-Soviet neighbors.

Russia's focus at the moment, however, is on the G-8 meeting opening in six weeks in St. Petersburg. Putin will host President Bush and the leaders of the other industrialized nations in a session that the Russian leader wants to focus on energy security, infectious disease and education.

Other topics will be nuclear non-proliferation, regional conflicts, terrorism and Africa's social and economic problems.

Putin repeated Friday his wariness about NATO's expansion to states that once belonged to the Soviet bloc. He also questioned its involvement outside Europe. NATO now leads a multinational force in Afghanistan.

``When the military structure of NATO comes close to our borders, we react. Why should this happen in this world? It's no longer a world of two systems,'' he said.

``Before you go with missiles and more weapons you should work on credibility,'' he added.

He said Russia still cooperates with NATO on preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

The World Association of Newspapers opens its annual congress in Moscow on Sunday, a meeting likely to spotlight claims that Putin's government sharply restricts press freedom.

Putin asserted Friday that Russia's press offers a wide variety of points of view, and that in the digital age, he couldn't control information if he wanted to.