Tony Blair: Good afternoon.
Before beginning my opening statement, let me say incidentally that we only have 35 minutes, the two of us, for the whole of this press conference.
Before beginning my opening statement, can I just say a word on the death of Sir Denis Thatcher earlier today. Sir Denis was a kind and generous-hearted man, a real gentleman, someone who had many friends here and abroad. I know how much he meant to Margaret Thatcher and the whole family. I know whatever part of the political spectrum we are on, we would like to send our deepest condolences and sympathy to the Thatcher family.
Can I welcome President Putin here, and say how delighted I am to see him here in London. The last three years have shown a real development in the relationship between Britain and Russia. I would like to think those relations today are probably stronger than they have been for many, many years. Those relationships are political, they are in terms of security, and they are economic relationships.
This morning, as you know, we were at an energy summit in which we gave a push forward to the developing energy relationship, the commercial relationship, between Britain and Russia and our companies. That would make Britain the number one investor in Russia, not just in respect to the European Union, but in respect to the whole world.
Whatever the differences there were over Iraq, however, we are working immensely closely on the international stage to confront the issues that are before us: issues to do with international terrorism, issues to do with weapons of mass destruction, issues to do with bringing peace and stability to the world.
Amongst the issues we discussed were obviously Iraq, Iran, India and Pakistan, the Middle East peace process; issues to do with the rise of extremism, particularly religious extremism in the world. We discussed, of course, the internal situation in Britain and Russia; we discussed the issues to do with the Russian economy, to do with Chechnya; all those things that you would expect us to cover.
I want to make one general point to you in my opening remarks. I think the leadership of President Putin offers not just tremendous hope for Russia, but also for the wider world. I would pay tribute to him as a partner and as a friend. I am quite sure that it is possible now to see how the international community can come back together and can manage to take forward in a constructive way the huge questions that are before us. I have no doubt at all that those sentiments will be echoed not just around Europe, but right around the world.
So, Vladimir, thank you for having come here for the State Visit, which has been a tremendous success. We are delighted to see you here, and thank you for your constructive friendship and partnership that you have shown during the course of not just the last few days, but also the last few years. It is a pleasure to see you here.
Vladimir Putin: Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all I would like to express my gratitude to Her Majesty the Queen for her thoughtful invitation and for her hospitality and the cordial welcome that we experienced here. I would also like to thank everyone else, first and foremost Mr Prime Minister for the wonderful organisation of the visit and packed programme. We are touched by the warm relations with which we have been met everywhere here.
Kind feelings are traditional for relationships between our peoples and for our contacts on all levels. We see in this a visual manifestation of mutual empathy and respect for one another.
Our talks have just ended with the prime minister and I would like to thank my colleague for how the discussion was held. We had the possibility to speak one to one, tete-a-tete. Then we spoke with the members of the Russian delegation and the leading Cabinet ministers. This was a very interesting discussion. We emphasised once again the strategic character of our partnership and noted the growing dynamics of political dialogue, a dialogue which gives a tonality to the entire complex of the Russo-British interaction. We are also satisfied with the positive moments that have occurred in our trade, economic and investment cooperation.
Today, the prime minister and I participated in the opening of the energy conference attended by authoritative specialists in this field. This once again demonstrated the greatest possibilities and perspective of our interaction in this important area. In particular, during the conference the Memorandum on Cooperation in the Project of Building the North European Gas Pipeline was signed. The prime minister and I expressed our support for this project.
We also welcomed the recent decision from British Petroleum and Shell on their large investments, around 17 billion dollars, in the development of the Russian fuel and energy complex. I had the chance to speak with the CEOs from both companies. This was not my first meeting with these people. I hope that their work with the Russian partners on our Russian market, as well as the joint activity on the markets of third countries, will be successful. The completion of these plans will certainly, and here the prime minister is absolutely correct, make Great Britain the leader in the volume of investments in Russia's economy.
We also talked about the necessity of involving other fields into this cooperation, in particular in high technology areas.
New possibilities for the interaction of our exporters on the markets of third countries are opening up with the signing of the Agreement between ”Vneshekonombank“ and Great Britain's Credit Exports Guarantee Department. Important agreements on credit have also been reached with Russia's ”Vneshtorgbank.“
Much or our conversation traditionally dealt with external political issues. We exchanged our opinions on the development of the situation in Iraq and we spoke about our cooperation in other regions of the world, including the Middle East. We are one in understanding the importance of the practical realization of the provisions stipulated in the Road Map on the Middle East, as well as the establishment of the appropriate mechanism to monitor the situation.
We also touched upon the topic of Iran. I informed the prime minister of the parameters of Russo-Iranian cooperation. We came to the unanimous opinion on the need to further encourage Teheran’s cooperation with the IAEA.
We also have much in common in evaluating the situation in Afghanistan and in regard to the prospects for its reconstruction.
Amongst other topics discussed, as the prime minister was correct in saying, were the topics of Southern Asia and the situation on the Korean Peninsula and the relations of Russia with the European Union and NATO.
Summing up, I would like to note that our meeting, as usual, was held in a very constructive atmosphere. Once again I would like to thank the respected Prime Minister, my friend, Mr Blair for the atmosphere which he created during this visit.
Question: Mr Prime Minister, as regards Iraq. A senior military commander this morning offered no explanation for the siege at the police station which resulted in the deaths of six Royal Military policemen. Is it clear to you how and why they died? And secondly, in a country awash with weapons, where many families have traditionally held them, is it wise to continue weapon searches?
Tony Blair: In respect to the first point, I think at this stage I shouldn't add anything to what the commanding officers out in the field are saying. We just need to learn and know the facts. There are very obvious reasons why, as Iraq transforms itself into a different type of country, it is important that it is proper law enforcement authorities that carry weapons, not all the citizens of the country. Now, obviously, it is a process of transition that has to be got through there, so these are judgements that have to be made. I think they are best made, frankly, by the commanders on the ground. The other thing that I would say to you is that however difficult the situation in Iraq is, I hope people understand that it is important that Saddam has gone, and it's important that the whole of the international community now works together to make Iraq a stable, prosperous and democratic country for the future, because that will have an impact far beyond Iraq. If Iraq can be turned into that stable, prosperous and democratic country, then the prospects for the whole of that region and the wider world are improved. That was obviously one of the things we were discussing today: whatever the differences in the past, how Britain and Russia and other key United Nations members can work together in the future.
Question: My question is to the Prime Minister. Today you spoke at the energy forum about the Great Europe. Is the UK ready to join to Russian, French and German interaction in the interests of European development on the whole, on the world stage? And a question to the President. The day before yesterday at Buckingham Palace, you said that practice shows that we should act together vis-a-vis Iraq, and then these actions will bring results. Could you tell us what kind of actions should be joint actions? Thank you.
Tony Blair: First of all, the differences we had over Iraq are a matter of history and record. But the international community came back together again in the United Nations in Resolution 1483, and we all pledged to work together for the future of Iraq. I believe there is a tremendous willingness now in the international community – not just in Europe, but also with Russia, the United States of America, with China, with other key people in the international community – to confront the challenges we have together on a concerted basis.
We are all suffering the prospects of the damage of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. We all need to work together on issues to do with climate change. We all need to make sure that the world economy is strong. We all need to make sure that these trouble spots in the world, whether it's the Middle East peace process or issues to do with Asia, that these issues are resolved. I am not saying that there won't be differences in the future that arise, but I am saying that I think, particularly after what we all have been through over Iraq, there is a real sense that I have of the international community pulling back together again and working together. That is vitally important for all of us. As I said a moment or two ago, if we genuinely can transform Iraq into a stable, prosperous and democratic country, that is a tremendous thing for Iraq, the region, the world – and that includes Britain and Russia.
Vladimir Putin: You know that our opinions don't always coincide. However, if this happens, then we speak openly to each other and don't hide this from the public. By the way, I completely agree with what the prime minister said today. I am prepared to take responsibility for each and every word said here. Actually, we are prepared to work now on the key issues which we are working on together. With regard to Iraq, as I believed before and as I can confirm today, we can and will work together here. The best confirmation of this is the last resolution accepted unanimously by the UN. The prime minister has just mentioned that. I would like to emphasize: unanimously.
Moreover, I have already publicly said it here today in London and want to say it one more time that the main parameters of this resolution were agreed by us during Mr Prime Minister's visit to Moscow. At that time we couldn't tell the press about the results of our talks because it wasn't clear if we could convince all the members of the UN Security Council in the approaches that we had designed. We were able to do this, as you can see. And to a great extent this was done during the prime minister's visit to Moscow. Today, on the basis of this resolution, we are prepared to go further.
We spoke today on the subject of political settlement. I believe that we have a good example, and following it, we could effectively work on the Iraqi issue. This example is the joint work on Afghanistan. It is well known how decisions were made on the organization and legitimization of power in Afghanistan. It seems to me that this could be taken as the foundation and work together. It is no less important to solve the problems of the country's economic renewal. And here we are prepared to work jointly. We talked about that today. I informed the prime minister of our talks with the president of the United States and we also met with understanding there. There are many problems, but I would like to reiterate the idea I have already expressed. If we work together, then we will of course work more effectively.
Question: I would like to ask the President, in view of the deepening economic ties between Britain and Russia, and I think both Shell and BP being in favour of British membership of the Euro, how much of a disappointment is it to you that this Government appears to be backing off from taking a decision on the Euro?
Also, if I could ask Mr Blair, whether the so-called Blairite cabal that we read about in the Financial Times is actually going to make any practical difference in moving Britain towards the Euro decision?
Tony Blair: Perhaps I can answer on the British policy first. The Cabinet Committee is a mechanism by which we can make sure that those obstacles that Gordon Brown identified in respect of British membership in the single currency can be dealt with, but it also gives us an opportunity to develop the overall strategy for the Government for Europe. Contrary to what you implied, we have not backed off any decision in relation to the single currency; on the contrary. We have reaffirmed our commitment in principle to go in, provided the economic conditions are in the right place. We have said exactly what those economic conditions are and what needs to happen in order that they come into the right place. I want to make one thing very clear to you. Particularly at the moment, with the dangers our world faces, particularly at the moment in Europe when we have ten new countries coming into the European Union, this is the last time for Britain to walk away from the European Union. Do not underestimate the Government's determination, and my personal determination, to make sure that Britain plays its full role at the centre of Europe.
In relation to the single currency, we've always said, and it's right – it is an economic union; the economics have got to be in the right place – but don't either doubt our commitment in principle to joining because it is the right thing for Britain, not just the right thing for Europe, but the right thing for the British national interest.
Vladimir Putin: As to our relation to the position of the British government in regard to the euro, then I believe that you should give that question to the countries in the euro zone. This question should be addressed to Mr. Chirac, Mr. Schroeder, Mr. Berlusconi, and other European leaders. But we do, of course, have a relation to the process going on in Europe. I'm not going to dodge your question and will please you with my openness.
We have a strategic and pragmatic attitude to what is going on in this area. I must say that today the pragmatic and strategic approaches contradict one another. The fact is that we are not very interested in the strengthening of the euro and in the processes that are going on today because we sell our export goods with the dollar, but goods of mass demand, which constitute the bulk of most of our imports, we buy with the euro. Therefore, it would be better for us if the euro was lower and the dollar higher and stronger. In speaking about issues of a strategic character, I must say that if Europe wants to play a serious and noticeable role in the world in the future, if it doesn't want to just live out its life, but win in the sharpening dramatic competitive struggle in the global economy, and I mean the huge, incredible growth rates in the economies of other regions of the world, then, of course, Europe must unite. And this is in our strategic interests, insofar as Russia both geographically and mentally considers herself a part of Greater Europe.
We believe that at the base of European identity is, first and foremost, culture and Russia without a shadow of a doubt belongs to this part of European culture, is an active participant in world culture, and has made and will continue to make her contribution to its development. We feel like part of the world. Therefore, of course, we will always support not only the integration of Russia into the European economy, but will also support any positive processes in regard to strengthening Europe in the world.
Question: My question is to the President of Russia. During your present visit to the UK, a lot is being said about economic cooperation, especially in the energy industry. When will we see practical results of your agreements?
Vladimir Putin: We already have practical results. Today, we are the witnesses to growth in the volume of trade between Russia and Great Britain. In comparison with the same period of last year, this trade has grown by 15%. This is a very good figure. Yesterday, I spoke about this in the City. The number of trade operations over the last months have doubled. This is a very good figure. And, finally, we have spoken numerous times about the plans of the large energy companies in Great Britain concerning their investments in Russia. Their work is developing successfully. Today, a document was signed between BP and our group TNK which will lay the foundation for implementing these agreements.
Question: A question for both of you, if you please. Mr Putin, you say that in Moscow, you and the Prime Minister were actually in agreement on the terms of the UN Resolution privately, but you couldn't say so publicly at that point. What you did publicly that day was to ridicule the Prime Minister for the fact that weapons of mass destruction were still missing. Have you changed your mind on the importance of that?
Prime Minister, in answer to a question in the House of Commons on Wednesday, you were asked if you would ask Mr Putin if Russia could make a contribution now to the post-war reconstruction of Iraq. Did you ask him that question, and what was his response?
Vladimir Putin: I am very sorry that you interpreted our conversation in Moscow that way. I did not say anything funny then, and moreover, I believe now, as I did then, that this is one of the most important issues. We are not intending to dodge any difficult issues, the prime minister and I speak quite frankly about them. Everyone believed – and we also believed, Russia also believed – that there might be weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We did not know this for sure, but we proceeded from the assumption that this might be the case, that they might be there. And we, of course, had to somehow close this disarmament dossier, because if we don't know if they were there or not, or if they were there, then we don't know where they were hidden and who has access to them, then this naturally presents a threat. It is a threat in the sense that some destructive elements could somehow get to them. We have to clarify this matter. There is nothing funny here – the issue is very serious. I believe that those who today control the territory of Iraq, including the British forces, should do everything possible to conduct further constructive work towards solving this problem.
In our turn, we are ready to do everything within our power, bearing in mind our interests in Iraq, and we shall act very cooperatively and very openly. The improving relations between our special services, who are in constant contact, and not only with regard to the problem of Afghanistan, but also in relation to the global fight against terrorism, should serve as a token of this. Today, the prime minister and I talked in detail about this subject. It is entirely relevant to all the issues connected with Iraq that concern us.
Tony Blair: Yes, we did discuss what contributions and help Russia could make in the context, of course, of UN Resolution 1483. That gives us a framework within which countries in Europe, Russia and other colleagues throughout the world can make a contribution, and that is important. I think this first became clear at the G8 summit at Evian. As I said, whatever differences on Iraq, everyone recognises the issues to do with terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. We're all confronting the same questions here. As both our countries have cause to know, there are real and urgent questions to do with terrorists and extremists who will use any type of weapons they can get their hands on to wreak the most destruction they possibly can. This is an issue for Russia, for Britain, for America, for the whole of Europe. Sure, we now have within Resolution 1483 the opportunity for us all to work together in respect of Iraq, but even apart from that, we are working closely together on meeting these twin threats.
If you look around the world today, I think that the fascinating, and dangerous, thing is this: whatever diplomatic issues there have been between our countries, or, say, between Britain and France or whatever, whatever diplomatic difficulties, essentially, we share the same perspective on these questions of extremism and terrorism. We face the same threat. That is the threat today. The threat is not a clash between the big powers in the world, the threat is from these extremists and terrorists, unstable states developing these weapons, and the combination of the two coming together. That's why it's important we work together. That's why it's important from now on that the international community is united on that basis.
Question: My question is to Mr Blair. Does Britain have an exact, a certain, plan to settle the situation in Iraq? How do you see your steps to set up a legitimate authority in Iraq? What prevails in London's foreign policy: European interests, or traditional strong relationships, links with the US?
Tony Blair: The plan is to work within the coalition, but also with other countries that are assisting us, and of course with the United Nation's Special Representative Sergio de Mello to make sure we take the right measures on security, on political reconstruction and on the provision of essential services for people in Iraq. Whatever difficulties there are, we are going to get that job done. We've made a commitment to people in Iraq; that commitment is now made on behalf of the whole international community, and we will fulfil it.
The question about our relationship with Europe or America: there is a very common view here, and obviously in Russia, too, that Britain should make some sort of dramatic or fundamental choice between Europe and America. The whole of my political philosophy is based on the fact that that choice is false in the end. We've got to get Europe, America, and, indeed, Russia working together. The reason for this is that our relations with America are vitally important; it is a strong historical relationship, but it is also based on values we share and common challenges we face.
In respect of Europe, Britain is part of the continent of Europe; Europe is the key strategic alliance right on our doorstep. Contrary to the view of some people, I see our relationship in Europe and with America not as a threat to us, but as an opportunity. Many countries aren't fortunate enough to have the possibility of that strong relationship with both Europe and with America. I think in the same way, if I may say this for Russia, Russia has a strong and important relationship with the United States of America, but Russia and Europe are moving closer together. It's in our interests. If we look at the problems we face in the world today, whether it's, as I say, the world economy or terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, we've got to work together. The idea that we split ourselves up into separate rivals or competitors is not the right way to proceed. I think what you've seen in the last few weeks, in my view, both in Europe and here today between Britain and Russia and also in the American engagement with the G8 process is an understanding that there may be different perspectives and different issues, but it's important on the whole that we work together. For Britain, the more I do this job, the more convinced I am, that for us, we have to keep both alliances in place because they are both vital for our own strategic interests.
Thank you very much.
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Question: You said that great attention was paid to Iraq during the talks. In your opinion, what are the priority tasks for normalising the situation in this country?
Vladimir Putin: In short, our position on the given issue is as follows. In the political context, particular attention undoubtedly has to be paid to stabilising the situation in this country. The state authority system has to be restored as soon as possible with the assistance of the UN. Moreover, the country should be ruled by the Iraqis themselves, and not by foreign specialists. We are in favour of a single and indivisible Iraqi state.
Every sector, in particular the oil and gas complex, has to be restored in the economic sphere. Our country is ready to play a considerable role in this process, with account for the great experience accumulated in Russo-Iraqi cooperation in the trade-economic and industrial spheres. We are talking about cooperation on an equal basis without any discrimination. Of course, only the Iraqi nation has the right to take control of the country's natural resources.
The humanitarian situation in Iraq remains extremely serious. The international community's priority efforts should focus on this.
We believe that Iraq should integrate with the global community as soon as possible. And not only on the basis of well-known Resolution 1483, but with account for the will of the Iraqi people and its legally elected representatives.
Question: What place did economic cooperation take in your talks?
Vladimir Putin: We paid particular attention to our economic relations during the talks. Both Russia and Great Britain have made significant gains from the fact that positive trends have emerged recently. According to the results for 2002, trade increased by more than 15% and exceeded 5 billion dollars. But in spite of the achieved results, there are opportunities for further improving on these results. Therefore, Mr. Blair and I had an in depth discussion about how to expand and diversify our economic cooperation.
Great strides have been made in the investment sphere. Great Britain has moved up to first place on the list of foreign investors. We welcome the decision taken by the leading British corporations BP and Shell to invest billions of dollars in the Russian fuel and energy sector. And we are counting on the fact that this will be a good example for British business circles.
I would like to point to the energy conference that was held during the visit. It brought together our countries' best specialists. At the opening, the Prime Minister and I talked with those taking part in the conference and were convinced of the great level of Russian and British businessmen's mutual interest in the serious expansion of interaction in the energy sphere.
A highly promising example of such interaction is the construction of the North European Gas Pipeline that I have already mentioned, which will allow a long-term basis to be formed for stable deliveries of Russian natural gas to Western Europe, including Great Britain.
However, the future of Russo-British economic cooperation lies not only in the energy sphere. Today we also talked about interaction in the hi-tech field. As far as I know, the Days of Russian High Technologies have just been successfully held in London. They featured the latest achievements of Russian scientific research institutes and more than 300 British firms demonstrated their interest in them. I think that this is a good sign.
We talked about cooperation in the field of space exploration. The latest contacts between Rosaviakosmos and their British colleagues testify to their interest in its development – above all, in the sphere of future space technologies.
When speaking about Russo-British trade-economic relations, I would like to express my gratitude to the Prime Minister for encouraging British businessmen to help Russia integrate into the global economic system and support its aspiration to join the WTO.
We remember that it is on the initiative of Great Britain that the European Union recognised Russia's market economy status.
The matter now is to implement these decisions in practice. The existing EU restrictive measures contradict the interests of not only Russia, but also the European Union itself, and do not correspond to the new level of political cooperation.