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INTERVIEW-Fed should proceed with bond-buying taper, Lockhart says

March 6 (Reuters) - The Federal Reserve should continue to pare its massive bond-buying program even if a key jobs report due out on Friday falls short of expectations, a top Fed official said on Thursday.

"In my mind, unless we really fall off track in the economy pretty dramatically, I think the tapering program should proceed," Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank President Dennis Lockhart told Reuters in an interview, adding that he has "modest" expectations for the Labor Department's nonfarm payrolls report.

Lockhart pegged the recent weakness in economic data to severe winter weather, and said that he expects it to be well into the second quarter before the Fed has real clarity if the softness has a more persistent cause.

(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer; Writing by Ann Saphir; Editing by Paul Simao)