Australian Prime Minister John Howard: Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you all to this joint news conference. The President and I have had a very lengthy discussion about bilateral relations, about world affairs. I'm delighted to welcome him as the first ever Russian head of state or head of government or indeed any head of state or head of government to visit, under a former constitutional iteration in Russia, ever. And that gives the visit a great importance.
As well, we have just signed a new nuclear safeguards agreement which completely updates the arrangements for nuclear safeguards between our two countries.
Russia is an important player in the affairs of the world, a very significant force and a very significant country of influence, not only within the European sphere, but within the Middle East and within our own part of the world.
Mr President I very warmly welcome you to our country. We have long held a deep interest in Russia. We understand the extraordinary history and the extraordinary suffering over many years for many reasons of the Russian people. We respect your modern economy, your modern nation and I hope that this visit plays a significant part in furthering the good bilateral relations that exist between our two nations.
President Vladimir Putin: Dear Mr Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen! From the outset I'd like to thank the Australian leadership for the opportunity to hold separate meetings with our Australian partners within the framework of APEC.
This is an important year. It marks – and I've already told Mr Prime Minister about this – 200 years since the first contacts between Russia and Australia, the 150th anniversary of our consular relations, and 65th anniversary of our diplomatic relations. The volume of our mutually beneficial ties is growing in practically all directions. We are cooperating quite well on the international scene on major issues on the international agenda. We're working actively in various international organisations, namely the United Nations and APEC, whose summit begins tomorrow.
Our volume of trade is also growing. In absolute figures it is still not considerable but its growth rates are remarkable. This bears witness to our untapped potential. Last year our trade grew by just over 80 percent. In the first half of 2007 we also witnessed significant growth – about 40 percent, more than 40 percent. We have many good prospects for cooperation. Mr Prime Minister mentioned nuclear energy, and this is far from being the only sector we are interested in. Our trade is growing and 25 percent of this trade involves agricultural products. Mutual investments are also growing, and today Russian investments in Australia are bigger than Australian ones in Russia. We have accumulated about half a billion dollars of Australian investments and Russian investments in the Australian economy amount to one and half billion USD. We have good prospects in hi-tech spheres, including in exploring outer space.
It was a great pleasure for me to see that our dialogue was extremely open, substantial and warm. I would like to thank Mr Prime Minister for this atmosphere.
Question: President Putin, how do you evaluate cooperation between Australia and Russia in the nuclear sphere, especially in light of the so-called uranium agreement signed today? And, Mr Prime Minister, what is your attitude to recent declarations in the Australian press that Russia will use this uranium for nuclear weapons?
Prime Minister Howard: Well my attitude to these assessments is that they are wrong, that any uranium that is sold to Russia will be sold subject to very strict safeguards, and the President in our discussion made the point that I think is relevant, that Russia already has an enormous amount of military nuclear material which it is selling principally to the United States for reprocessing. So if you apply logic to the allegation, it lacks substance.
President Putin: I consider our cooperation in nuclear energy to be promising. We will work on a bilateral basis and on a multilateral basis, especially considering our proposal to set up international centres for enrichment. We have all the necessary technology and the raw materials for this. And, as you know ,Australia is country number one in terms of reserves: 40 percent of known reserves are in Australia.
Russia has enough of its own materials to implement military programmes. Moreover, we have an excessive amount of materials that can be used as weapons. For many years now we have sold enriched uranium to the United States where it is reprocessed and then sold on the North American market. To better explain, I can say that to produce one nuclear weapon you need about 20 kilogrammes of enriched uranium. We sell 30 tonnes per year of such uranium to the United States. And the overall volume of our sales to the U.S. amounts to about 500 tonnes. So those who say that Russia will use Australian uranium for military purposes simply do not understand the issue or they are purposefully distorting it in order to hinder further cooperation between our countries.
Question: Mr President, what assurances can you give that Australian uranium sold to Russia would not be used for military purposes or resold to third countries, such as Iran? And, secondly, there are concerns of a regional arms build up, fuelled by your recent arms deals, in Indonesia, for example. What's your response to those concerns?
President Putin: Indonesia is a full-fledged member of the international community. Thank God the country is under no sanctions and, therefore purchasing and selling weapons on international markets cannot be negatively affected by cooperation between Indonesia and Russia in this area. These are legal and open transactions and it is our firm conviction that they will have no negative consequences, nor will they somehow disturb a presently existing balance in the world.
And as to using uranium for weapons, I have already answered this question in enough detail and I hope that you will consider my previous comments in order to find the answer to your question.
We need to sell 500 tonnes of uranium together with our American partners on the North American market. Why would we spend money on enriching Australian uranium to weapons-grade uranium?
As to Australian uranium, we are going to buy it simply for economic considerations, and in light of our plans to develop peaceful nuclear energy. In the Soviet era we built about 30 major nuclear units in the nuclear power plants of the Russian Federation. In the next 15 or 20 years we're planning to build the same amount again. And it is for these purposes, and only for these purposes, that we need this Australian uranium.
As to selling uranium to other countries, if this were to be necessary then our own resources would be sufficient.
Question: Mr Prime Minister, how can you evaluate the participation of Russia in APEC and the possibility that the APEC summit in 2012 will be held in Vladivostok, Russia? And a second question to President Putin: do you think that Russia is ready to take up this presidency and host the summit?
Prime Minister Howard: Well, I evaluate Russia's participation in APEC very positively. Russia has been a member of APEC for a number of years now and I have attended every APEC meeting during the Russian period of membership and it's been extremely positive. And I have no doubt that the Russians would be very gracious, convivial, entertaining and enjoyable hosts and I think it would be a great APEC meeting, particularly if it were held in St. Petersburg.
President Putin: If our APEC partners give us the honour to hold the APEC presidency in 2012 we'll do our best to execute it in the proper way. Of course we'll take into account the wishes of our partners. If you would like, we can hold the meeting in any city of the Russian Federation. But if this summit takes place in Russia we would like to hold it in the Asian part of Russia, for example in Vladivostok. It is this part of Russia which is an organic part of Asia. The region has a lot of resources which our APEC partners really need. And I think that meeting in that part of Russia would be a correct and symbolic step that will help us develop our business ties.
Question: Is it possible that you would stand down soon?
Prime Minister Howard: I would refer you to the answer I gave two days ago.