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Question: Mr President, you discussed the topic of Syria with many leaders recently, and now you are literally an hour’s drive from Syria. What is your outlook? My second question concerns the upcoming international conference on Syria. The US has stated that it does not want to talk with Iran on this matter. Do you feel it would be possible to discuss this issue, and settle this problem overall, without Iran?
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: I think that the more of Syria’s neighbours are involved in the settlement process the better. Why? Because almost every neighbouring nation affects some part of the process. I feel that ignoring those opportunities, those interests, would be counterproductive, as diplomats like to say. In any case, this would complicate the process. We have cooperated with Iran on Afghanistan and we are still cooperating on certain other issues. And this should have nothing to do with the problems pertaining to Iran’s nuclear programme; that is a separate topic. Thus, in my view, it would be better to involve Iran in this process and secure its support. It would be better if the people inside Syria itself were able to agree with one another, and if all its neighbouring nations – all who can influence the situation – were to act as the guarantors of these agreements.
Question: Mr President, President of Israel Shimon Peres devoted most of yesterday’s reception to the topic of Iran. Do you share his point of view that Iran represents a direct threat to Israel’s existence as a state, or could present that threat in the foreseeable future?
Vladimir Putin: Mr Peres is certainly among the most experienced, established politicians in the world. Not just in terms of age, but in terms of experience, first and foremost. If one side makes a statement regarding the possibility and necessity of eliminating the other side, of annihilating it, then that approach is absolutely unacceptable for Russia. We have stated this position many times; it is our fundamental position. We feel that we must all aim to strengthen the prevailing principles of international law and conform to those regulations – first and foremost, the United Nations Charter. And we must eliminate and weed out everything else from the theory and practice of international relations.
The Iranian problem is complicated, but I ultimately feel that it can and should be resolved by absolutely peaceful means, by way of negotiations and on the basis of respecting the rights of the Iranian people to the peaceful use of nuclear energy with absolute guarantees to the global community that the implementation of that programme will not lead to the emergence of nuclear weapons and will not promote the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the world.
Question: Mr President, I have a slightly off-topic question. Do you feel that it was right to accept the resignation of the Russian Football Union President Sergei Fursenko? How, and most importantly, when will we know the name of the next Russian Football Union president? Perhaps you already have an idea of who it might be?
Vladimir Putin: I do not know who it might be. The decision to resign was made by Mr Fursenko himself. I spoke with him. He feels (and he said this publicly) that he carries a significant part of the responsibility for our national team’s unsatisfactory performance. He feels that we have a good team, that the players could have done a much better job. He perceives the results to be unsatisfactory and feels that he himself carries a certain, known measure of responsibility, so he made the decision to resign in order to give other people, another person, the future president of the Russian Football Union, the chance to realise his potential and implement his plans.
I feel that this is a very dignified decision and a good one; nobody pushed him to make it, it was his own personal choice. Honestly, I do not know who might be the next president of the Russian Football Union. This is up to the Union itself.
Question: And when?
Vladimir Putin: It shouldn’t take too long, because we need to name the future head coach of the Russian national team and begin work. It’s generally known that sports involve a great deal of work and responsibility to the nation, particularly if we are talking about the national team, and require this process to be well-organised. So here, we need good organisers and specialists. I very much count on the current leaders of the Russian Football Union to choose a worthy coach for the national team, and we will be able to prepare for future kick-offs. Conclusions must be drawn from all the mistakes – those conclusions should be aimed at identifying and eliminating those mistakes and achieving good results. That is what we must aim for, rather than being sad or beating ourselves up.
Question: Today, you opened a science and culture centre in Bethlehem, and the street where it stands is named after you. Did you know about this? How do you feel – not only when this is done abroad, but in Russia as well – about being immortalised like this while you are still living?
Vladimir Putin: Of course, I would love to continue living some more. You say, while still living or not living… In general, as was the case here and in other nations, I was not made aware of it in advance; it was completely unexpected for me today as well. Still, I think that our immortalisation is, first and foremost, up to future generations. But if something like this happens, it is a sensitive issue, especially if it happens abroad: if we protest too much, we can offend people. So honestly, I am a little abashed, but there is nothing to be done about it.
Question: In these two days, you spoke with all the sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Have there been any signs that the situation in settling this conflict may move forward from the current standstill, and were you able to get Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas to agree to a personal meeting?
Vladimir Putin: I did not come here with a goal of encouraging a personal meeting between these two heads of state. But I did get the impression that agreements are possible. In any case, I witnessed a desire from our Israeli partners and friends to meet halfway with the Palestinian side, and the Palestinians certainly want to renew peaceful talks but, of course, after adherence to the many agreements that were reached earlier. We specifically talked about how these are not preliminary conditions, they want to see agreements that were reached earlier.
I do not even want to assess the positions of each of the sides now, but what’s most important, and I do not doubt this, is that there is goodwill both from the Israeli side and the Palestinian side to move forward. I think that we can be witnesses to this movement. But it would be wrong to rule out any parties in this process, particularly the United States. The United States is currently on the threshold of its elections, so I think the Middle East may not be their main priority, but I feel it would be wrong to take any significant steps while excluding the United States’ direct participation, because this always elicits suspicion. Who needs suspicions here, and why? We need to have patience and prepare the next step. It is possible.
Question: Mr President, there is political reform happening in Russia which was launched half a year ago. Are you pleased with how it is progressing? How do you react to the excesses, both by members of the opposition and by the authorities (I am referring to the searches and so on – I imagine you know and follow these events?) And as the guarantor of the Constitution, what can you guarantee for these people?
Vladimir Putin: I want to say that I must guarantee the opportunity for all citizens of the Russian Federation to exercise their rights, regardless of their official capacity, but at the same time, I must strive to ensure that everyone keeps in line with applicable legislation.
As for the searches you mentioned, and certain other things… Believe it or not, I learned about it from the press. If everything was carried out within the framework of applicable law, then it is normal; if there were any infractions, then naturally, we will look into them. But if somebody’s rights were violated, those individuals must turn to relevant authorities – in this case, the courts. I am certain that the courts will react accordingly. I repeat, if rights were violated. And in general, I recommend that all citizens always do exactly that: if their rights are violated, they should turn to the courts.
Now, improving the judicial system is a separate issue, but it is a process, a path that we must travel – a path of gradual evolution by all the structures in our society, and it is that path that will lead us to where we need to be.
Question: You visited the main holy sites here and in Jerusalem. You even prayed at the Wailing Wall. I will venture to ask, what did you pray to God about?
Vladimir Putin: The Wailing Wall is a holy shrine for the Jewish people; it is one of the pillars of one of the world’s major religions, Judaism. As you know, Judaism is one of the four traditional religions in our nation, and this status for Judaism was established by the law of the Russian Federation. Thus, I feel that it is entirely normal to visit this shrine – in this case, a shrine of the Jewish people.
In addition, there are also other considerations. You know, all disputes in the Middle East ultimately come down to this place, because it is a point of contention, and one of the most problematic matters in this discussion is who this place belongs to. First, a synagogue was built here, then other cultural buildings, then still others – and so on. Honestly, I have been here before, I have watched, and I have visited the Wailing Wall, too. But I never had the chance to get to see it so closely. It was very interesting and useful to look at this problem from within, to hear specialists talk about it.
Moreover, I do not know who among you has been there, whether you have seen it or not, but I was able, quite spontaneously, to talk to people who had just come there to pray. I must say that it was an interesting conversation and the people were very open, kind, interested in cooperating with all their sisters and brothers from other faiths. It was very nice to hear and see.
Thank you very much.