Question: How do you assess the results of the APEC summit?
Vladimir Putin: I don’t think I need to say how important work in this region is for Russia, in the Asian and Pacific region. I think Canadian Prime Minister Chretien put it correctly today when he said that there is an increasing amount of optimism as to the development of this region in comparison with others, even with the Atlantic regions. And, of course in Russia, where two thirds of the territory is in Asia and over 30 million people live beyond the Urals, there is the opportunity to take part in these processes. We should of course make use of this opportunity, and we intend to do so.
Unfortunately, we can not boast that relations are developing dynamically in Asia. Essentially, Russia’s traditional orientation to Western Europe and North America is understandable. Our main production powers are in the European part. Expanded Europe accounts for over 50% of trade, but I repeat the Asian market is very promising, and of course we should not lose the opportunity to take part in these processes.
In this sense, the meeting that was held today was, in my view, productive. We were able to discuss problems of the region in a wide format, and accordingly build our questions into it.
I would include among the concern we have expressed over new restriction in trade. We joined the APEC to meet the Bogor goals. It is essentially the same as the problem with the World Trade Organisation. That is, we declare that we are striving for liberalization and open trade. We entered the APEC for this reason. At the same time, we encounter more and more new non-tariff restrictions, and as soon as some of our production becomes competitive on the international market, problems arise. I mean, for example, restrictions on export of metal to several countries. I pointed this out to my colleagues.
We discussed the prospects of economic development in the Asian and Pacific region, and in the world. Today, it was interesting to listen to and talk about the perspectives for development of the world economy. The U.S. President, the Japanese Prime Minister and several other of our colleagues talked about this.
As you know, we discussed the problem of terrorism, and it was very important for everyone to stress once again the necessity of fighting this evil, this plague of the 21st century. In my opinion, this is not superfluous, because it once more consolidates the international community in the war on terrorism.
I must say that in connection with this, everyone gathered here supported the opinion of several participants that we should think about providing security for international trade in connection with the threat of terrorism. At the same time, I directed my colleagues’ attention to the fact that this problem must undoubtedly be solved, but with methods and means which would not lead to a rise in price of the item for consumers. These services should not be imposed on market participants and should not be an additional burden on the world economy, should not lead to a drop in growth rates. Because it is easy to imagine – we know bureaucracy very well – you only have to give them an excuse in any country, and we will immediately face imposed services on tracking containers, on marking them, additional obligations and so on and so on. I think that this topic of providing security for world trade and the world economy is important. We should make these tasks possible, but they should be solved by minimum funds, and these goals should be reached mainly by coordinating efforts and a growth in trust between law-enforcement and special services. There are, of course, also special methods of combat, but this should all be done within the frame work of interaction between countries.
Another topic connected with economic problems is the WTO, and it is very pleasing for us to note that they supported Russia’s aim to join the World Trade Organisation in their statements. It was doubly useful and pleasing for me to hear that several of my colleagues said directly that if governments and according service were more flexible, they would be prepared to sign the corresponding bilateral agreements right here, during this meeting.
Unfortunately, not everything is so promising with all our partners in Asia and Europe. We hope that support from a representative organization such as the APEC will also have a positive influence on the process of Russia joining the WTO.
Furthermore, numerous bilateral meetings were held, and as you know they were recorded on camera. I think that the numerous exchanges of opinion during various talks were no less important, so-called lobby talks, where we could, in an informal setting, calmly discuss almost any topic of bilateral relations, or the international agenda. I was able to exchange opinions briefly with the U.S. President, the President of Indonesia, and colleagues from Hong Kong and Latin American countries. On the whole, all this was useful and interesting, and I am sure it will have a practical result for interaction with our partners in Asia.
For example, the Prime Minister of New Zealand and I agreed to order appropriate institutions to renew contact at governmental level to bring our trade and economic ties to a higher level. I was interested to learn that united Europe holds second place in the trade and economic turnover of New Zealand. It is not clear why Russia, which is closer even to New Zealand, cannot also effectively develop relations with this country.
We also reached agreements on cooperation with Indonesia, Peru, and several other countries.
Today, I have already talked with the Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation Mikhail Kasyanov, and told him about this, and he formulated the necessary orders to ministries and departments.
Question: You said that you had met with Mr. Bush, can you tell us any details about this?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. We talked with him many times during these meetings. You know, the atmosphere is relaxed there. Everyone approached m who wanted to talk, and I approached the colleagues I wished to speak with. The U.S. President and I talked several times during these one and a half days. We talked about several international issues, about Iraq of course, about Iran and North Korea. In passing, we also talked about bilateral relations. But actually, we discussed all these issues in considerable detail quite recently at Camp David, so there were no major, cardinal changes in the situation. But these talks were useful, because on some specific issues we adjusted our positions and exchanged mutually beneficial information.
Question: It is said that at this summit Bush mainly talked about the war on terrorism, and did not mention economics. Is this not very interesting for him?
Vladimir Putin: No, that’s not the case. First of all, he did not talk about terrorism any more than others. George Bush took part in the section of the discussion which concerned organizing the war on terrorism, but he did not make the main report. I think that even the President of the Philippines talked about this issue more, and he supported the discussion in very important areas, in my view. But this was not his main message to the organization. Although it is an important topic, everyone stressed this, and we gave it quite a lot of attention today. It was one of the main issues on today’s agenda.
But the U.S. President talked in considerable detail on the problems of economic development both yesterday and today. He also outlined perspectives of development for the world economy as he sees it, and gave quite an optimistic view of the development of the United States economy.
Question: How do you assess the exchange of opinions on the North Korean problem, and in your view, what security guarantees is North Korea prepared to give countries from the group of six, whether they are Russia, the U.S.A. or China?
Vladimir Putin: You know, it is too early to talk about this yet, because if we want these guarantees to be effective, they must firstly be well worked-out, and secondly they must be accepted by North Korea.
When I say “well worked-out”, this means that all the countries that are prepared to provide guarantees must precisely and clearly formulate their position on this issue – exactly what guarantees they are prepared to provide.
So far there are no such clear formulations. Drafting work is underway. I will probably have a talk with the President of South Korea today, including on this issue, although I already discussed this problem with him briefly yesterday.
I should say that everyone involved in discussing this problem, and with whom I have talked so far, have a constructive attitude. And this is the most important thing.
Question: And what would suit us?
Vladimir Putin: International guarantees which would be accepted by the North Korean side and which would mean the Korean peninsula was free of nuclear weapons.
Question: And how about the Iranian problem?
Vladimir Putin: This is currently one of the most serious problems in the world. And, of course, we discuss this whenever it is convenient. I have talked with the President of France, with the Chancellor of Germany, with the Prime Minister of Great Britain, and of course I talked with President Bush yesterday and today on this issue.
It is difficult to say what we can expect, because it is no easy matter to look ahead and make predictions, especially with such a difficult problem as the Iranian problem. But we still share a common vision of this problem with the Europeans.
I am afraid to be so bold as to say that this is the common position. I said “the common vision”. It is not a general coordinated position, but I have the feeling that our approaches are approximately the same. They are that if Iran fulfils all the conditions of the international agreement opens its programmes, signs an additional document, then there are no foundations to restrict cooperation with it, including in such a sensitive sphere as the nuclear area.
And indeed, if Iran does not aspire to possess nuclear weapons, then I for example see no reason to close any programmes for Iran. This is what we tell our Iranian partners, openly and directly.
We have long-standing, excellent partner ties with Iran, and we work in various areas, such as building the atomic energy station in Bushehr. We currently insist that another problem be solved, the return of processed atomic fuel which we can deliver to this country in the framework of common programmes. If these issues, these problematic issues, are closed and solved – and there are no obstacles to this – then we see no reasons not to work or cooperate with Iran. In my opinion, our European colleagues take approximately the same approach.
Question: Mr. Putin, if could we go back a bit, to our cooperation with and view of the Organisation of Islamic Conference: how do you think our interaction with the OIC should develop?
Vladimir Putin: Constructively. We should receive the maximum benefits from our cooperation with all partners who we are interested in working with. I already mentioned, while I was in Malaysia, the three directions of our cooperation with the Organisation of Islamic Conference. I don’t think there is any need for me to repeat myself. From all appearances, judging the results of this work, the decision was a correct one, and it is already giving certain results, which are that the Islamic world has a better view of what is going on inside the country, including the Caucasus. And we have already felt the support of the Organisation of Islamic Conference in solving the problem of Chechnya. We are grateful for this, and hope that work in this direction will be constructive and mutually beneficial. This is the first point.
And secondly, as I have already said, this may favourably influence economic cooperation with a number of Muslim countries. But if you paid attention to my speech, it was generally aimed at promoting the ideas which several leaders of Muslim counties, including Iranian President Khatami, by the way, have already expressed. I mean the problem of dialogue of civilizations. This is a very correct, very timely and very useful thesis, and we will support it any way we can. Including by working with such Muslim organizations as the Organisation of Islamic Conference, for example.
Question: You always use summits like this to publicise the economic achievements of Russia, and you talk about the GDP and attractiveness for investors. Do you feel any result?
Vladimir Putin: Of course. You know that all these statements and all this work have a purpose. Notice that many rating agencies were carefully following what was going on, and planned to increase Russia’s investment rating after the Duma and Presidential elections in the Russian Federation. But as soon as we said we were ready to begin payments on IMF credit lines ahead of schedule, as I did at a meeting with one guest in Moscow, one rating agency, as you know, immediately raised our investment rating by two points. I am sure that this also played a certain role. These signals do not go unnoticed by experts, and all these efforts combined – not each one individually, but combined – especially, of course, combined with the real success of the Russian economy – bring success. They are helpful.
Question: Did you have discussions with any new people at the summit? And what do you expect from your visit to Kyrgyzstan?
Vladimir Putin: From the visit to Kyrgyzstan, I expect an exchange of opinions with the President on bilateral relations, on strengthening our interaction in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and in the CIS, and also in the Collective Security Treaty. I expect to see that the runway which our pilots will use is in good condition. You need to see everything with your own eyes, where they will live and what conditions they will work in. I think that this is enough.
We have constant dialogue with Kyrgyzstan. This time I am making a visit to complete work on a specific issue, connected with the creation of a Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan. I hope that everything will be the way it was planned.
New people. Essentially, this was not the first time that I have participated in APEC summits, so I know all the colleagues well. Furthermore, I have very good personal relations with many of them, but I would say that we may have a new impulse in mutual relations with Indonesia, Peru and New Zealand.
Question: It was reported that the Dean of the faculty at Baghdad University appealed to you to help restore the Russian language library. Are you aware of this? Will there be any reply?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, he wrote a letter. During military operations, this library was destroyed. We will provide assistance to Baghdad University to restore this library. Of course we will do this. I think that otherwise it will be very difficult to restore the library in the current conditions, and this means it will be difficult for the people who want to study Russian literature, Russian culture and the Russian language. As you and I understand, these are the most necessary conditions for interaction with any country, and not just mere charity. It does not cost much in money terms, but the returns from it may be very useful.
Question: You were wearing an ethnic shirt today. Was it comfortable to wear? Who chose the colour?
Vladimir Putin: I thought it was a jacket, but if you think it’s a shirt… I don’t know who picked the colour. I opened the cupboard and found it there. I don’t know who did this. Certain of our services are responsible, they give the sizes in advance, as is usually done here, and this is how things are organized. It is a tradition at APEC summits to dress participants in ethnic clothes, so there’s nothing unusual about this.
Question: Did you choose the colour yourself?
Vladimir Putin: I haven’t chosen much recently, apart from the main political line of Russia’s development inside and outside the country. Everything else is done by staff.
Reply: And you chose this a long time ago.
Vladimir Putin: But it often has to be adjusted. It is my direct responsibility. This is why I was elected – to deal with domestic and foreign policy, which is what I try to do. And as for suits and shirts – I try to pay attention to them if I have any time left.
Question: Is there any chance that the APEC summit could be held in Russia?
Vladimir Putin: Of course there is, why not? We have to hold the G-8 meeting in 2006. I think that it is a case when fuss is unnecessary, and the actual choice of venue for such events is not a goal in itself. Although Russia, of course, can take on this responsibility, and is capable of holding any international forum, even one as important as the APEC, on the highest level.
Question: If I’m not mistaken, this has been your longest visit in some time.
Vladimir Putin: Firstly, this was a coincidence. Because the invitation arose to work at the Organisation of Islamic Conference. And then the one and a half days before the APEC – we didn’t get any time because we had already filled them with additional work. Then came the APEC, and we had agreed with the Thai side some time ago that we would combine my participation at the APEC in Thailand with a visit. This has been quite a lot of time, plus Kyrgyzstan as well. This is done, obviously, not to waste unnecessary time, travelling three thousand kilometres back and forth.
Question: Did you feel calm about leaving for so long?
Vladimir Putin: The country currently exists in conditions of stability and positive development. Every day, I talk several times with the Chairman of the Government and the Head of Administration, the Minister of Defence, the Head of the General Staff, or the Director of the FSB, so I a sign a large bundle of documents every day.
Thank you very much.