President Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon. We have gathered to discuss current domestic and foreign policy issues. And, of course, the most important theme of our meeting will be developments around Iraq. Without exaggeration, the world’s attention is now riveted on this problem.
And assuredly, the course of the military campaign and its likely consequences are being widely discussed in Russian society as well.
In this connection I want first of all to thank you, all those gathered here and the Federal Assembly as a whole, for the constructive support of our position on Iraq. I reckon that in the future we will also need to act as concertedly, pragmatically and without unnecessary emotions.
You know that until the very last moment Russia strove for a political solution to the problem. Practically daily we were in contact with leaders of the world's major countries and worked actively in the UN Security Council.
In this case I want to especially stress that while we do have our own economic interests in Iraq, we have never placed our stand on Iraq in direct, immediate relation to economic factors or to economic advantage. Because – and I think you will agree – economic advantages are, of course, an important component of our policy, but if we commit serious blunders and mistakes in a political assessment of the situation, if we miss the mark here, then in the end this will turn into economic losses for us, too.
Regrettably, international efforts for a peaceful solution of the problem are now frustrated. Having begun 9 days ago, the military operation is assuming a fierce and protracted character. Human casualties and destruction are increasing with each passing hour, and civilians are being killed – children, old men, women. American and British soldiers, Iraqi servicemen are being killed.
As we foresaw, the consequences of the war in Iraq go beyond the framework of a local conflict. This is perhaps the first time since the end of the Cold War that the world community has encountered such a grave crisis. In essence – the danger of an undermining of the foundations of global stability and international law.
It is now necessary to look for a way out of the situation together. As before, we are convinced that the only correct solution would be an immediate cessation of hostilities and the resumption of the process of political settlement through the UN Security Council.
In seeking a solution, we are open to constructive cooperation with the international community and with all the parties involved in the conflict, including, of course, the United States of America. I shall stress: the level and character of relations we have achieved with our US colleagues in the last few years give us every reason to continue an open dialogue.
And, of course, it is a major task of the world community to prevent the impending humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq. As you know, Russia has already launched preparations for providing relief to likely Iraqi refugees on the border between Iraq and Iran, with the cooperation of the Iranian side.
This is what I would like to say at the beginning. Thank your for your attention. We can now move on to a discussion of this situation and of the other questions you deem possible and necessary to discuss.