Vladimir Putin: Good day, Ladies and Gentlemen. It is with satisfaction that I would like to point out that our consultations with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair, are regular in nature and they always, just like today, take place in a constructive and confidential atmosphere.
Today we discussed a broad range of topical international and bilateral issues. On many of them we expressed positions that in substance are very close. It is my conviction that the Russian-British interaction and cooperation is of major importance to our two countries and to international relations at large and they are of fundamental strategic importance because Russia and the United Kingdom are Permanent Members of the Security Council. Serious attention was paid to the enhancement of multi-faceted relations between Russia and the European Union and the preparations for the forthcoming Russia-EU Summit in St Petersburg on 31 May. We also discussed the situation existing in the Middle East, the Korean Peninsular, in Afghanistan, and we also discussed a broad range of bilateral questions.
Quite naturally serious attention was given to the situation around Iraq. The Russian position on matters of a post-conflict settlement in Iraq, just like before its position with regard to the means of settling the Iraqi crisis, has been consistent and absolutely transparent. Now that the war is over, the central, the key role for the United Nations should not only be restored, but should also be strengthened. The central issue today is the resolution of humanitarian problems of the Iraqi people. Russia has been consistently advocating the softening, and even the lifting of sanctions against Iraq. However, our partners in the United Nations Security Council believe that until clarity was achieved on whether there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, sanctions should be kept in place, and we agreed with that position. We did the utmost for organising effective inspections by UNMOVIC and the IAEA. Those two international bodies have not found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and now, two weeks after the cessation of hostilities in Iraq, those weapons are still not found. But the questions remain, despite the fact that the situation in Iraq has changed. The questions are: where is Saddam? where are those arsenals of weapons of mass destruction, if they indeed were in existence? We don't know whether perhaps Saddam is still hiding somewhere underground in a bunker, sitting on cases containing weapons of mass destruction, and is preparing for blowing the whole thing up, bringing down with him the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, we simply do not know, we do not know whether this is the situation.
Perhaps this will not happen and the situation is different, but nonetheless we should give it proper consideration and we should take proper precautions and we should react to it.
At the same time, we think that we need now to focus and in a well considered manner to decide what actions need to be taken in order to urgently resolve the humanitarian problems for the Iraqi people; and secondly, in what way can the international community actually and legally draw a line under the whole question of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. As part of accomplishing the first task, we think it necessary now, particularly when there is a period of lawlessness in Iraq, to ensure the implementation of the oil for food programme under the United Nations' control, and we think that this oil for food programme should not only be supported, but it should be expanded.
Earlier we heard arguments that the Saddam regime is stealing money from that programme, but now that the regime is no longer in existence, Saddam is no longer in power, so there is no-one to steal the money, and therefore we think that we should work within the framework of this programme and using the established mechanisms under the control of the international community.
As regards to weapons of mass destruction, there are plenty of opportunities and options to ensure effective inspections, even in the very difficult and complex post-war situation. And if something is found there, some empty barrels or something like that, then the UN inspectors could be immediately summoned in order to do their job and to make their professional conclusion as experts. And the inspectors could work in Iraq, being protected by blue helmets. We could give some consideration to various options to ensuring peace, stability and security in Iraq through the use of an international force, an example set by what we did in Afghanistan. Russia has repeatedly stated its willingness, and reiterated its willingness, to take a direct and active part in ensuring the activities of UN inspectors in Iraq. But in any case, the primary objective is to ensure that decisions are taken that take into account the legitimate interests of the Iraqi people that are based on unconditional respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq. The Iraqi people have every right to determine its own fate, its own destiny, without any pressure from outside. We also discussed the problem of debt relief for Iraq. We expressed our willingness to solve this matter in the framework of the Paris Club using the proper procedures of that club, a fully fledged member of which Russia is.
I would like also to tell you that we discussed many other issues, and by and large I would like to express my satisfaction with the results of the discussion we have had, and I would like very much to hope that the constructive discussions and the constructive interaction between our two countries will be continued and will be implemented and translated into concrete deeds. And I would like to personally thank Mr. Prime Minister for accepting my invitation and coming here to Russia for consultations. And despite some differences in our approaches to the settlement of the Iraqi crisis, we are quite satisfied that we share a view that we should cooperate and act in a concerted way and move forward in that atmosphere.
Anthony Blair: First of all, can I thank President Putin for his kind invitation here and I am very pleased to be with him again, and I have had a chance to discuss the many issues which we need to resolve in the international community today. The bilateral relationship between Russia and Great Britain is actually very strong. We have discussed many of the commercial and financial projects that we now have in common together, and I am pleased to say that the President will be making an official State Visit to Britain between 24 – 27 June of this year, which will be the first full official State Visit from Russia since I believe the 1870s. We also discussed, in addition to the bilateral issues, we discussed many issues of international importance other than Iraq, including the issues in North Korea, the Middle East peace process where we both want to see publication of the … road map in order to make progress there based on the two state solution, and of course in respect of Afghanistan where we have been working closely together.
In respect of Iraq, obviously there are the differences about the conflict, which will be well known to everyone. But we agree that it is important that Iraq in the future has a representative government, is a stable partner for the outside world and in its own region, and is able to function effectively as a proper member of the international community, free from Saddam. There is agreement, as you know, that the United Nations should have a vital role, both in respect of the humanitarian position in Iraq, but also in respect of its political and economic reconstruction. It is also the case of course that there will be many details that have to be worked out as to exactly what that role contains. I hope in a spirit of goodwill that we can achieve that, because I think it is important for the international community to be involved in Iraq for the future. And as for the coalition forces, as we speak we are doing everything we can in order to stabilise the situation, to provide a better future for people in Iraq, and in particular to make sure that the services that they depend upon are improved. So no doubt there will be discussions ahead of us in order to make sure that we can resolve any remaining difficulties or issues that there are in the international community, but I would like to thank the President once again for the constructive and immensely friendly atmosphere in which these talks were conducted. And I look forward to coming to St Petersburg at the end of May and to welcoming him back into Great Britain towards the end of June.
Question: This is a question addressed to both the President and the Prime Minister. First of all, could you once again elaborate on your vision of how a post-war settlement should proceed in Iraq, and what role you think the United Nations should play in that process? And the second question is addressed to the Prime Minister. You were one of the initiators, one of the promoters of the idea of establishing the Russia-NATO Council. In that context, what is your vision of the future development of the Russia-EU relationship, and what do you think the way that relationship should take?
Anthony Blair: Well first of all in relation to the situation in Iraq, we essentially envisage a three stage process. The first stage is the stage that will be undertaken by ORHA — the reconstruction body of the coalition forces — that will try and make sure that we both stabilise the security situation, improve the humanitarian situation and get essential services going. The second phase will be to establish the Iraqi interim authority, that should be an interim body, representative of the Iraqi people, capable of assuming the functions then of government. And then the third stage should be on the basis of a new constitution for Iraq, a full and proper representative government that can govern Iraq for the future. And I see a role for the United Nations in each one of these three steps, and I think the important concept is not either the United Nations as somehow subordinate to the coalition, nor the coalition subordinate to the United Nations, but the two working together, particularly to achieve a proper representative Iraqi government. As for Russia and the European Union, you are right, we were pioneers of a closer relationship between Russia and NATO that is I think working well, and we see a far closer cooperation developing between Russia and the European Union and we will give very careful consideration to any ideas that allow us to formalise that and make sure that we make a reality of the increasing strength of the relationship between Europe and Russia.
Vladimir Putin: To us, this proposal made by the Prime Minister concerning the three stage settlement, we find it acceptable. We think this is a good foundation for discussing the problem and for finding common ground, for bringing our positions closer together. And I think that at every stage the role to be played by the United Nations at large, and by the Security Council, should be outlined specifically and in clear terms.
Of course each stage should be developed very carefully, should be well prepared, but at the same time we think that it would be inadmissible to unduly protract the whole process of transferring powers back to the Iraqi people. And my second point is that before we start this settlement work, we should have a clear understanding of the basic principles for such a settlement and a preliminary agreement on such basic principles, and in that context we agree with the proposal made by Mexico. They suggest that fresh principles be established and agreed by the United Nations. And we also discussed with Mr Prime Minister the role for the United Nations Secretary General and his involvement in this process, and of course this is a proposal that is worth consideration and we think that it is acceptable and it should be worked on.
Question: President Putin, we all heard you making fun of the weapons of mass destruction. Do you doubt that these weapons exist, and how do you think it actually helps the Iraqi people to link that question with the lifting of sanctions? And Prime Minister Blair, are you disappointed by President Putin's words about weapons of mass destruction and the way that it has come out today?
Vladimir Putin: Well you know what I said about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, perhaps that might be perceived as ironic remarks by some, but in actual fact no irony was meant. Simply we must be consistent in whatever we do and we should base our action on realities, on our perception of realities, and we should not forget what those realities were and what they are now and what are the reasons and what are the causes. You are fully aware of the fact that we opposed the military action, but nevertheless as we all remember full well that the main reason for launching that military action was the alleged existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The Iraqi regime claimed that they had no such weapons of mass destruction, but nevertheless we supported the position of our colleagues in the United Nations Security Council with regard to the need for inspections to be conducted because we too had doubts and we did not know for certain whether such weapons existed or whether they didn’t exist in Iraq. And whatever was said about irony, we should understand, we should have a clear picture of whether those weapons did indeed exist and if those weapons were present, where were they? And there is yet another important aspect to this problem. I think that the whole military operation was started by the coalition, based on their conviction that these weapons of mass destruction do exist.
And if this is an actual fact, if those weapons did exist, or do exist, can we be quite sure that all those people who were supposed to put those weapons into action, whether they have been eliminated, killed in action, or whether they have escaped, we have no certainty on that account. Or perhaps their plans, the plans of those surviving people, is to transfer those weapons to terrorist organisations. We simply do not know, we simply do not know whether this is a fact. I simply want you to understand me correctly. What we want to ensure is that there is no ambiguity on whether this threat has been eliminated, and so far we have no clarity on this matter, and until we get answers to these questions, we cannot feel safe and secure. And we have no intention of making fun, we simply want to make an agreed decision and take agreed action, as we have done for years on many other issues, although sometimes not without difficulty, but still we did it, we have been doing this in the United Nations Security Council for the last 12 years. And finally, as I have mentioned before, we have, in legal terms and actually, to draw a line or dot the i in this matter. Legally the sanctions were introduced against Iraq, based on the suspicion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and therefore from the purely legal point of view, those sanctions can only be lifted once clarity has been fully established that no such weapons exist. And it is only the United Nations Security Council that is in a position to lift those sanctions, after all it was the Security Council who introduced those sanctions in the first place. We have maintained constant contact with the Prime Minister, we have spoken on many occasions over the phone, and the Prime Minister is fully aware of our approach and of its logic. Let me repeat that this is not an easy question, it is a complex question despite the fact that military activities, that hostilities have ended. Anyway we are prepared to cooperate in solving this problem.
Anthony Blair: What the President has just said there on the issue of weapons of mass destruction, what he has just said there has not disappointed me. I think it is important that we find out exactly what has happened in Iraq. I am confident that we will, time will tell, I am confident that time will tell, and it is important for the whole of the world that we know exactly what has happened. Because one thing is for sure, Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and has been pursuing a programme for weapons of mass destruction over a long period of time; that is established fact, that is there in the United Nations and there in all the resolutions the UN has passed. And I set out for you a very deliberative programme of how we now go about assembling the evidence for this, and I am sure it will be there, I am confident it will be, and then I think it is important that we share that with the international community and make sure, as I have said before, that it independently verified, and that is something we should carry on discussing between ourselves as partners.
Question: My question is addressed to both the Prime Minister and the President. The first part of it is to the Prime Minister. In your interview with the Financial Times you spoke about the unipolar world, about one single centre of power in the world, Europe, the United States, could you please elaborate on this topic? And I would like also to know the views of Mr. President on this subject. And the second part of the question is addressed to both the Prime Minister and the President. While the war was going on in Iraq, the problem of weapons of mass destruction has emerged elsewhere in other regions of the world, particularly I am referring to North Korea and its weapons of mass destruction. What is your view and what do you plan to do in that regard?
Anthony Blair: First of all in relation to the remarks I made in the Financial Times, I believe this, that America and Europe, and indeed Russia too, should form a strategic partnership together, rather than set ourselves up as rivals to one another. I think that if we are partners the world is safer and more stable, if we are rivals it is highly dangerous and destabilising. That obviously requires coming together on every side, but it also requires a recognition that whatever differences there are between us, we have got to support each other's key strategic interests. And I believe one very big strategic interest we all have in common is dealing with the issue of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction in the hands of unstable and repressive states. And we can pursue these questions in different ways, for example in relation to North Korea where there is the prospect of renewed dialogue, but we do have to make sure that we deal with the issue of North Korea and its nuclear weapons programme that is highly dangerous for the outside world.
Vladimir Putin: I have already told Mr. Prime Minister that I have read his interview with the Financial Times and we have had a discussion on this matter with him. I think that this is a very interesting interview, a very interesting report. You know our position about the mono-polar world: we believe the world must be multi-polar. And I paid attention to the fact that in his remarks Mr. Prime Minister referred to Europe and the United States as the centre of power, but also referred to the need of a close strategic partnership between Europe and the United States on the one hand, and Russia on the other hand. And if my memory serves me right in his interview, Mr. Prime Minister also mentioned China. And in this we see some elements, at least some elements of a multi-polar system. And if all this refers to the need of efforts being made by all the countries, all the centres of power based on the principles of international stability and security, in that case I would be prepared to subscribe to such an approach. But in that case another question arises, the question of decision making. If the decision making process within such a framework is democratic, then it is something that we could agree with, but if decisions are being made by just one member of the international community and all the others are required to simply subscribe to support those decisions, this is something that we would not find acceptable. And I think that concerted action and agreement on the basic fundamental principles for such action is an utterly important matter, particularly as we deal with one of the fundamental challenges of the 21st century, that is the problem of preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
As regards North Korea, our position is well known, but let me repeat it. We are in favour of a nuclear weapons free status of the Korean Peninsular, but I think that this problem could be dealt with and resolved effectively and without much pain through concerted efforts of all the interested parties.
Question: The Prime Minister warned yesterday of the danger of recreating the divisions that were seen in the Cold War, given the debate about war with Iraq and what should follow. I want to ask him, do you not think we have seen those divisions on display today? And to ask the President what you think the consequences would be of the UN not being involved, as you would wish it to be, in the future of Iraq, just as it was not involved in the decision to go to war?
Anthony Blair: First of all, the differences that there have been over Iraq I think are well known. The question is can we find a way forward together for the future, and I believe we can if there is a willingness to find compromise and a goodwill and a desire to find a way through that will strengthen the international community and the UN. But in the end there is a debate going on in the international community, and let's just be absolutely honest about it, it is a question of whether we can achieve the right strategic partnership between the main countries of the world and the United States of America, or whether we are going to have the stand-off that we had over the past few months. And I don't think there is any point in trying to gloss over the differences there have been, they have been there … But to have that strategic partnership, two things need to happen: if we want a partnership it means that first of all, when there is a huge strategic interest, as America believes and I personally accept and believe, in relation to terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, then we really are prepared to work together and resolve it; and secondly it means that that partnership is a two way process, and the concern that is sometimes expressed is, is America prepared to listen back, will America listen to the concerns that other countries raise, for example in relation to the Middle East peace process, for example in relation to issues to do with global poverty and development. Now I believe it is possible to have that two-way dialogue and partnership and I simply say that the alternative, which is the type of stand-off we have had diplomatically in the past few months, in the end is in no-one's interest, not in the interests of Europe, not in the interest of Russia, not in the interests of the United States of America. And that is why we have got to find a way through to make that partnership real. And the issue is very simple — are the coalition forces prepared to accept that there should indeed be a central role, a vital role for the United Nations, but are our other colleagues on the Security Council prepared to accept that our soldiers, having fought and died in respect of this war in Iraq, cannot simply hand over Iraq to the sole charge of the UN whilst coalition forces are there on the ground stabilising the situation. Now that is the first test of whether this partnership can be made to work again. And I think that it can be made to work, but it requires goodwill and it requires a real vision and acceptance that this strategic partnership is the only alternative to a world in which we break up into different poles of power, acting as rivals to one another, with every single dispute in the world being played off against these different poles of power. That is a real danger for our world.
Vladimir Putin: Responding to the first part of your question, I would like to say that my view is very close to what the Prime Minister has just said. Of course the Cold War, the former Cold War was based on differences and confrontation between two poles of power, and those differences emanated from differences in ideologies. There is no more such situation in existence and there is no coming back. But on the other hand, any division in the international community will not allow us effectively to resolve major challenges of our times, that is, the problems of non-proliferation and of combating terrorism. In any case, let me assure you that the actions that Russia will take will not be aimed at confrontation; on the contrary what we will seek is cooperation.
As regards the second part of your question concerning the settlement process in Iraq, whether it could be achieved without United Nations involvement and whether that would exacerbate differences within the international communities, to all these questions my answer is affirmative, yes. Indeed if war has been waged without United Nations sanction, why not believe it impossible to continue to ignore the United Nations. But on the other hand, we can hardly expect that a settlement achieved in that way would be long lived, that it would be stable and that it would be fair. And of course proceeding this way will prevent the consolidation of all the international forces in addressing the major challenges of the 21st century. But we should do our utmost to prevent this development and this is one of the main reasons why we have met today, and we continue working on this problem, and today I once again saw for myself, and I am fully convinced that Mr. Prime Minister is fully committed to achieving these objectives.