Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, dear ladies and gentlemen. I am sincerely glad to see again in Moscow the President of the Council of Ministers of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi.
Italy is one of Russia's closest partners both in European cooperation and in international affairs as a whole. The deepening of Russian-Italian collaboration meets the national interests of our countries, and has a positive influence on developments in Europe and in the world as a whole.
We attach great importance to the development of bilateral political dialogue with Italy and strive to use all the possibilities for the exchange of views on key bilateral, regional and global issues.
Therefore I am very grateful to our friend, Mr. Berlusconi, for agreeing to come to such cold Russia, but which welcomes him with an open heart.
Today the focus of our attention was bilateral relations and the development of Russian relations with the European Union.
Italy will soon be presiding over in the EU. And we very much hope that in the period when this occurs positive shifts will also occur in the quality of cooperation between Russia and the European Union.
Of course, we spoke about the Middle East, and of course about Iraq. I also informed the Prime Minister of our efforts for resolving the situation on the Korean Peninsula. We mapped out a plan of our cooperation for the near future.
Mr. Prime Minister reminded me of the invitation to pay a visit to Italy. That visit will take place in the fall, most likely, at the beginning of November this year. Furthermore, we want it to be an unusual event. The leading members of the Russian cabinet will come to Italy together with myself to discuss, directly with their colleagues, the state of affairs and outline the prospects for the future, to create prerequisites for working contacts at ministerial level.
We still have a few hours and I hope that we will manage to talk on a number of other questions of mutual interest.
Question: You mentioned a possible solution of the Iraqi crisis; Mr. Berlusconi met with US President George W. Bush, he also met with Tony Blair, Mr. Putin likewise met with leaders of other countries, with the Presidents of France and Germany. And I would like to know what differences are there between you, and what common views on a resolution of the Iraq crisis.
Vladimir Putin: First of all I want to confirm that Russia is pursing a fairly vigorous policy here, holds an active stance on this issue. And we, of course, are in touch with all our partners: with American and European. I am grateful to Prime Minister Berlusconi for informing me of his talks in Washington. You can't say everything over the telephone, and what Mr. Berlusconi told me in a personal meeting has a definite significance for me.
Both for me personally and for Russia Italy's own stand on this issue presents value. Italy is an important partner for us, we are very positively developing relations in all areas and, of course, the stand of Italy on this very acute problem, I repeat once again, presents for us definite significance and influences, of course, in a certain degree, our stand as well. I did not see any fundamental differences in our approaches, we both feel that we must actively and jointly, respecting the interests of all the participants of the international antiterrorist coalition, fight terror. We must possess objective information on the absence in Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.
But, most important, the solution of these questions, especially a decision on the use of force, must take place exclusively through the Security Council of the United Nations. Of key importance here will be the position of UN inspectors. They must tell us what they still lack for carrying out effective checks and report their vision of this problem and of this work in the Security Council. And it is the Security Council that must take a decision on what to do next.
I shall add another couple of words. Politics aside, though, of course, this is a political question, we shall try to make it technical. What is the problem? Are there weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or not — this is the question which has to be answered. Is there Resolution 1441? Yes, there is. Everybody has agreed that it is satisfactory. Are the inspectors working? They are working. Have they found anything? No, they haven't. The inspectors must tell us what has yet to be demanded of Iraq so that their work could be more effective. Let them tell us that.
We will formulate the demands for Iraq, and will present these demands. And after this we shall see how the work is going. All of this must be evaluated, I repeat once more, in the UN Security Council. And, of course, the use of force is the last resort.
Question: Is there the possibility for a peaceful solution of the Iraqi problem? Taking into account the differences that exist in Europe regarding Iraq, can we say that there will be a unanimous foreign policy of the EU and NATO?
Vladimir Putin: With regard to the possibility to find a way out of the crisis by peaceful means, I answer in the affirmative. I think that most citizens in our country and other countries hope just for this. So do I.
Question: Unless the situation changes — in order after all to take the next steps — do you consider that a new UN resolution will be necessary? And a second question: For inspectors to work some time more in Iraq their period of work should be prolonged. What do you think about this?
Vladimir Putin: We held that even this resolution was not necessary, the previous ones were quite enough. But listening to and having heard the arguments of our Security Council partners, we agreed and jointly worked out Resolution 1441. Now, I repeat once more, inspectors must tell us whether they are satisfied with Iraqi cooperation or not. Or they need something else. I agree completely with the Prime Minister that a considerable portion of responsibility lies on the Iraqi side, which must cooperate with the inspectors in full.
We for our part keep exerting constant pressure on Iraq. Only recently an official delegation led by a Russian Deputy Foreign Minister visited Baghdad. The latter agreed to its scientists being interviewed and, among other things, agreed that they can be taken abroad for those interviews.
Baghdad also agreed that inspectors can call even at private houses. This looks like a human rights violation, but Baghdad agreed to this as well. The Prime Minister is absolutely right, we must get the answer where the weapons which were discovered earlier are now, where they were destroyed, and so on. The inspectors must formulate these questions and explicitly report to the Security Council on this. And then we, the members of the Security Council, for our part will present certain demands to Iraq. Whether it will be necessary to arrive at a new resolution — we shall think, but we don't rule that out.
Today the inspectors tell us that they need some more time to carry out their work. Well, if they say so, then we surely have no doubts about their honesty, objectivity or professionalism, we trust them. So it is necessary to give them the opportunity to work a while more.
Question: How do you assess the prospects for the development of mutual relations between Russia and Italy, and also between Russia and the European Union?
Vladimir Putin: Trade is approaching the 10 billion dollars mark, and Italy's investment presence in Russia is growing. We are cooperating not only in the field of energy — we shall yet discuss this, there are many different areas here — but also in the field of high technologies. The mass media are developing bilateral contacts quite well, in my opinion.
With regard to the roots of cultural cooperation between Italy and Russia, here, I think, all will understand that there is something to speak of, this cooperation has a very old history and profound traditions. Russia is pursuing, as you know, a well-considered, multi-faceted policy — but the European direction of its foreign policy will be increased. We discussed different schemes for the deepening of cooperation between Russia and the European Union and very much count on the support of the Italian Prime Minister in joint work.