Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.
Please allow me to briefly inform you about the results of my informal meeting with the British Prime Minister, which has just finished.
To begin with, I want to thank Mr and Mrs Blair for accepting our invitation.
We had a very useful and interesting exchange of opinions on the entire range of our partnership. We paid attention to bilateral relations and stated with satisfaction that the Russian-British trade turnover increased by 37% last year. We discussed the practical aspects of economic cooperation and the opportunities to implement ambitious projects. We gave major attention to our interaction on the international scene, conflict settlement and the fight against terrorism. We spoke about the situation in the Middle East—in particular, Israeli-Palestinian relations and certainly the entire range of problems surrounding Iraq. We also mentioned the Indian-Pakistani developments. I highly appreciated the openness and sincerity of my dialogue with Mr Blair. Our talks were interesting and extremely useful. Thank you.
Question: Please allow me to ask about a widely discussed sensitive issue connected with the drafting of a new UN resolution. Its key part is expected to be a kind of a trigger to pull unless Saddam Hussein complies with the demands. Mr Putin, are you convinced that it is necessary to adopt such a resolution? If a war starts, how will it affect Russian economic interests in the region?
Vladimir Putin: As for Russia, I repeat again: Russia has always stated that all Iraq-related problems must be settled on the basis of all the resolutions that have been adopted by the UN Security Council. Baghdad has made certain concessions under the pressure of Russia and other UN Security Council members, and agreed to receive UN inspectors without any stipulations. Considering this, we do not see any formal legal necessity for the UN Security Council to adopt any additional resolutions. At the same time, we agree with our partners—in particular, I agree with Mr Blair—that we must take into consideration the negative practice of inspections in Iraq, which the world remembers. In this context, we are ready to join hands with our partners for acceptable decisions to unconditionally guarantee inspectors’ work in that country. With this aim in view, we do not rule out the prospect for coordinated decisions to take the form of a UN Security Council resolution. As for Russian interests in Iraq, I want to say the following: Russia certainly has such interests. They started many decades ago. I want to stress that not only Russia but also many other European countries have economic interests in Iraq. As we see, they are also determined to protect those interests. I also want to stress that there are certain political things in the international security sphere—such as non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction—that cannot be bargained for. Russia has always followed consistently—possibly more consistently than some of its partners—the road of non-proliferation. We shall act the same way in the future, which does not mean we shall overlook our pragmatic economic interests.
Question: Mr Blair, do you find it possible to settle the Kaliningrad problem before the Russia-European Union summit? And another question, to Mr Putin: you and Mr Blair discussed the matter today. Are you satisfied?
Vladimir Putin (complementing Mr Blair): I prefer to make do with retelling what the Prime Minister said: Russian citizens’ rights are to be fully taken into account in settling the Kaliningrad problem and in their travel from one part of their country to another. We shall be fully satisfied if the European Commission lends an attentive ear to his opinion.
Question: First, did you discuss financial matters that might satisfy Russia in exchange for its support of the resolution on Iraq? Second, a Russian minister referred to the British government report about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as sheer propaganda. What do you think of the Iraqi threat?
Vladimir Putin: We certainly discussed the economic consequences of settling the Iraqi problem according to several scenarios. I am glad to see that Mr Blair does not think the political and diplomatic settlement options are exhausted. I fully agree. As for economic consequences of settling the problem, they matter not only to Russia but also, I repeat, to many other countries, Britain being no exception. We surely talked about it. But I call on you again not to regard our meeting as bargaining. After all, I invited Mr and Mrs Blair not to a bazaar but to a discussion on the entire range of partnership problems. As for information about Iraq possessing mass destruction weapons, if any government—Russian or British or any other—passes available information to the media, it is doing so to support its own policy. That is surely propaganda, but I don’t think the word has a negative connotation here. Russia has no reliable evidence of Iraq possessing nuclear or any other weapons of mass destruction. Our partners have not yet given us any substantial proof of the presence of such weapons in Iraq. The point is borne out by information the CIA has forwarded to the US Congress. True, we are afraid Iraq might have such weapons. That is why we insist on UN inspectors being sent there and the sooner the better.
Question: Mr Putin, as we know, you will not represent Russia at its summit with NATO in Prague. Who will lead the Russian delegation?
Vladimir Putin: As for Prague, I can say that in one of the formats envisaged for the summit.Russia will be represented by its Foreign Minister.
Question: Mr Blair, do you still have any doubts concerning President Putin’s stance on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?
Vladimir Putin (complementing Mr Blair): I can make an addition. If there were no apprehensions about the presence of weapons, Russia would not insist on inspectors returning to Iraq. I want to stress something: apprehensions are one thing and objective information another. Inspectors must return to put an end to even the slightest apprehensions and prevent the tentative manufacture of weapons of mass destruction. We fully agree on this point, and we support Mr Blair. Here we have a shared platform of team efforts and we shall make those efforts together with the other UN Security Council members.