President Vladimir Putin: The Russian-German-French meeting at the summit level has just taken place. As you know, this is not the first summit of this kind. In March 1998 the leaders of the three countries with the same participants gathered in Moscow. The fact that we have met again now is, of course, not coincidental. This is an objective need conditioned by the high level of bilateral relations as well as by our awareness of the responsibility for the state of affairs in Europe and the world at large.
On the eve of the Russia-EU summit of May 31 this year in St. Petersburg it was very important for us to discuss the progress of preparations for this no ordinary event, 'to synchronize our watches' in regard to the entire set of reciprocal relationships with the European Union. We intend to make the upcoming summit historic not only by the composition of the participants but also by the nature of the decisions to be taken.
Much attention during our today's meeting was given by us to the overall architecture of international relations. In this aspect, a special emphasis was placed on the unique role of the UN as the main regulating mechanism of international relations. Also, a unanimous opinion was expressed that these goals cannot be achieved without the positive interaction in the European Atlantic space.
It was natural that during the talks we did not bypass the Iraqi crisis. The principled position of our countries on this question has not changed. Today the priority tasks are, of course, the transition toward restoring in that country a peaceful life and resolving humanitarian issues. All these issues can and must be solved with the UN playing a central role. We were also unanimous that the situation in Iraq must generate vigorous international efforts to overcome other regional conflicts. For this reason we also spoke about the Palestinian-Israeli confrontation, about moving ahead in the interests of a Middle East settlement as a whole. We spoke about the prospects of the 'Road Map' that you know. We also discussed the problem of North Korean peninsula and the situation around North Korea. It goes without saying that we also discussed at the talks other problems of reciprocal interests, including bilateral relations between Russia and the FRG, Russia and France.
On the whole, we view with optimism the prospects of our bilateral relations both with German and French partners. The interest of Moscow, Paris and Berlin in developing cooperative links is of a long-term nature. They do not depend on the political expediency, and I would like to stress this. We are convinced that the progressive development of these relations is of great significance for European and international stability.
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Question: One gets the impression that the occupation authorities in Iraq have forgotten about their responsibility in that country. Looting, a humanitarian catastrophe, anarchy… What is your view of this? And do you believe the military action in Iraq has accomplished its objective?
President Putin: I agree to begin if my colleagues do not object. The first part of the question concerns the occupation forces' responsibility for the situation in Iraq. We have gathered here not in order to criticize the actions of those occupation forces. You know our position on the problem as a whole. I will repeat that it has not changed. I don't think that the members of the alliance — the anti-Iraqi coalition — have forgotten about their responsibility. On the contrary, I think that today they are doing everything to avert a humanitarian catastrophe.
It is just that the scale of the problem is so great that so far they have not been able to tackle it effectively. This is the real situation. But they have signed the appropriate UN resolution, adopted recently. Under the Geneva Convention, they are responsible for maintaining the humanitarian situation in the country. I count very much on this being done.
As regards whether the goals of this military action have been accomplished, the only goal, if one talks at least about some legitimacy, could be this — to disarm Iraq, and to search for weapons of mass destruction there. As we know, nothing has been found. Even at its last moment of struggle for survival, the Iraqi regime did not make use of those means. We still do not know whether or not the Iraqi regime had those weapons of mass destruction. But if it chose not to use them at the last moment of its existence, this either means that there are no such weapons or that they are in a state in which it was impossible to use them. Then the question arises about the feasibility of the action itself. What did they fight for? What problem were they out to resolve?
As regards the main question — that of disarming Iraq, of the existence or absence of weapons of mass destruction, — the goals were not accomplished and, incidentally, they cannot be accomplished without the return to Iraq, as soon as possible, of the inspectors of the United Nations Organization. This must be done sooner or later because the finds on the part of the forces of the alliance cannot be recognized to be legitimate, whatever their nature. So far nothing has been found. But the origin of particular means of mass destruction can be determined only by the inspectors of the United Nations Organization.
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Question: The question is to each of the three leaders. Does not your meeting today introduce a rift into the international community?
President Putin: I said on purpose that it is not the first meeting in this format. In 1998 there already was such a meeting. There exists another tripartite format — France, Germany and Poland. And, as far as I am aware, a regular meeting in that format is also scheduled for the near future. I must stress that the objective of our meeting is not to divide the international community but rather on the contrary — to find ways in the joint work to build the structure and the architecture of the international security in the 21st century, acceptable for all the states of the world. This is an open meeting. I must say that it was known in advance. And our other colleagues also received invitations to attend. It is true that it was organized with very short deadlines and so we would not bear a grudge if some of those invited had no time to join. But we are prepared to work further both in this format and in a broader one.
We have of course paid much attention to Iraq. It is natural. But the problem of Iraq was not the only topic of discussion. There are more topics and we said about it. We are concerned over the situation around North Korea, we are concerned with the conflict in the Middle East as a whole, around the Palestinian territories and so on.
I would wish to add a couple of words on the question of whether or not the goals in Iraq have been accomplished. We must not in any way permit ourselves to confuse notions, we must not forget what all this problem was about. The Iraqi regime was not liked by anyone except by Saddam Hussein himself. But the issue was to disarm Iraq, to liquidate weapons of mass destruction if they existed. Did anyone doubt that the leading countries of the Western community, the militarily most powerful countries of the world would be able to demonstrate their military superiority vis a vis a poorly armed country with an average population size? Nobody had such doubts.
On the T-shirt of your colleague who stands opposite me there is the portrait of Che Guevara. See how handsome he is, — this is the brightest representative of the export of the socialist revolution theory. We cannot engage in exporting a capitalist, democratic revolution. If we only permit ourselves to do it, the world will have embarked on a very perilous, slippery road of unending sequences of military conflicts. We and you have no right to allow such a development of events. Saying ”we and you“, I have in mind not only those gathered here today, in this hall or around this table. We have in mind the broadest circles of international public, including representatives of the so-called anti-Iraqi alliance.
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Question: You said that the occupation forces in Iraq shoulder the responsibility for the humanitarian situation in the country and that they will try to solve the humanitarian problems. But does it not seem to you that the true intentions of these occupation forces are not restoring a normal life in Iraq but in extracting economic advantage from this situation?
President Putin: In this case it seems to me that we are faced with an instance when people behave with sufficient consistency. This makes our task somewhat easier because our partners' logic of thinking and way of acting is more or less clear. I think that posing the question in this way is justified. It seems to me that, despite all the importance of economic issues, we now must above all think of solving the problems of humanitarian character and questions of normalizing the social and state life in Iraq itself. We must not in any case permit ourselves to pass over to elements of new colonialism. We must do everything to ensure that the fate of Iraq returns into the hands of the Iraqi people themselves. There are principles that exist for this, tested by recent practice, — variants of solutions to issues of this kind. We have, of course, discussed this topic and President Chirac gave instances of similar questions being solved in contemporary history. The scheme is simple — as was, for instance, the case of Afghanistan: an international conference under the UN aegis, an interim national administration to prepare universal democratic elections and hold the elections so as, I repeat, to return the fate of Iraq into the hands of the Iraqi people themselves.
But at the first stage, of course, the administration appointed by the occupation forces must deal with priority humanitarian issues and questions of organizing the life of the country.
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Question: In connection with Iraq's dire straits, appeals were heard to write off that country's debts. What do you think about it? And how do you visualize the order and the procedure of Iraq's rehabilitation?
President Putin: Regarding a possible write-off of debts, I can say this… Some did some shooting, some did some looting, and now someone has to pick up the tab. This always happens so… But despite this irony, I must say that on the whole, the proposal, is understandable and has its raison d'etre. At any rate Russia does not object to the question being posed this way. I must say that, by the overall volume of debts written off for the poorest countries of the world, Russia ranks third after France and Japan and as regards writing off debts as the share of the GDP — it is first. We are prepared to consider this question but there are certain procedures in existence, developed by the World Bank and the IMF. This is done within the framework of the Club of Paris, in line with these procedures, through negotiations. We are prepared for such negotiations.
As regards the substance of the question, then, as far as I am aware, — and I cannot now give the exact figure — but I think that by the level of its development Iraq is ranked by the World Bank somewhere next to Algeria. There are certain procedures existing for such countries of the world.
As regards the procedure for restoring the situation in Iraq, we have discussed it only now and I do not think it necessary to repeat it. I agree with what Mr. Chirac said. I think that in principle such a question could begin to be discussed by the Eight in Evian. Bearing in mind the special situation, Iraq is not placed within the category of the world's poorest countries. In such cases the Eight would frequently join in. If France, as the host of the forum, is not against the item being added to the agenda, we would not object.
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Question: You regard the ouster of Hussein's regime as a positive aspect of Iraqi events. Does it mean that in principle you believe such actions by Western democracies are possible in regard to reactionary regimes?
President Putin: It seems to me that I have already expressed myself with sufficient clarity on this question. Today at the Petersburg Dialogue forum Mr. Chancellor also referred to this topic. He said that the change of the regime in a particular country must be dictated by impulses of political life of that state itself. I absolutely agree with this. Only in this case can the changes of the political nature become stable, effective, corresponding to historical realities and to the particular experience of the country in question.
I must say that there are no absolutely similar models of democracy even in the Western community. The principles may be so, but democracies are everywhere different. If we wish to impose one model on the world, we will have to change the regimes in the overwhelming majority of the world's countries. I would not hazard an accurate figure but at least 80 percent of countries of the world will be affected by such changes. And of course in the especially grave cases we will in a particular place, sooner or later face same serious problems that we have in Iraq today. We simply risk being drawn into a sequence of unending armed conflicts. This is extremely dangerous in my view. Another road is more effective — the road of joint development of principles for solving the questions of this kind in a concerted manner and purposeful. I am sure that, pressured by the leading countries of the world, any regime in today's situation will mimicry in a quite acceptable direction. I am absolutely certain of this. And the choice in favor of war is the worst choice to make.
Question: Don't you think, Mr. President, that after your sharp words about a colonial regime some of those invited will not come to you to attend the summit in May?
President Putin: We have scheduled a Russia-EU summit for late May. I think the summit will take place any way. In connection with the 300th anniversary of St.Petersburg we plan to hold an expanded forum and we will be glad to see all we have invited.
As regards the substance of the question, I don't think this is posing the issue in a very sharp way. I would wish to stress once again that the situation we came to face in Iraq must be resolved as soon as possible in accordance with the UN Charter and the practice applied by the United Nations to situations of a similar kind in recent years. We said quite a lot about it — myself and Mr. Federal Chancellor and Mr. Chirac. There is such practice. And the sooner we take the road proposed by international law, the better. And the longer we postpone solving the issue within the UN framework, the more it will be reminiscent of a colonial situation. There is nothing special here and nothing novel. I must tell you that I am not the only one who thinks so.