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Tony Blair: Iraq Conflict Is 'Not Inevitable'

Prime Minister: Iraq conflict is 'not inevitable'

In a joint press conference with President Putin the Prime Minister Tony Blair said that 'conflict is not inevitable, but the disarmament of Iraq of all weapons of mass destruction is'.

The Prime Minister said:

"...the stronger and the clearer the signal that the international community gives to the Iraqi regime that they must comply with the United Nations position, then the less likely conflict will be..."

Read the full transcript of the press conference from Zovidova, Russia, in full below:

PRESIDENT PUTIN:

Good Afternoon Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen. Allow me to briefly inform you on the results of our meetings. Our non-formal meeting with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has just been completed, and first of all let me thank him and his spouse for having accepted our invitation. This has been a very interesting and helpful exchange of views along all the tracks of our interactions.

We have paid attention to our bilateral intercourse and we have noted with satisfaction the fact that over the past year the turnover between our two countries has grown by 37%. We have discussed specifically the tracks of our cooperation and the concrete possibilities of the further augmentation of our cooperation in this field. We certainly paid a great deal of attention to our interaction of international cooperation in combating terrorism and the settlement of conflicts. We have discussed several regions in the Middle East and Palestinian-Israeli relationship, including naturally we paid attention to other problems, including the question of Iraq. We certainly discussed the situation which shapes up around the relationship between India and Pakistan.

I hold in very high regard the sincerity and the open character of the dialogue which has taken place between myself and the Prime Minister of the UK today. These talks were both very interesting and extremely helpful. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER:

For my part first of all can I send our very warm thanks to President Putin and to his wife for the warmth and friendliness of their welcome to us here today. I think it is right to say that the relationship between Britain and Russia has strengthened considerably over the past few years. This is reflected, as the President has just said, in an enormous strengthening of our trade relations, in the first six months of this year an increase of between 25 - 30%. But also of course in respect of the important issues that occupy the whole of the world in which we regard Russia as a critical partner for ourselves and for the whole of the Western world.

And as the President has just indicated to you, we discussed of course the issues of the Middle East peace process, India and Pakistan, of course the issue of Iraq. And I am pleased to say that those talks were both friendly and constructive.

And finally if I can pay tribute to President Putin's leadership of Russia which is making great and enormous progress under his leadership and for his leadership in the world, which as we saw in the case of Afghanistan, has yielded great benefits in the common fight against terrorism.

QUESTION:

(not complete as question was inaudible)

... resolution on Iraq ... have you been able to convince President Putin to endorse this ... Russian approval ... And Mr Putin, what assurances have you sought about Russia's economic interest, should there be a war in Iraq, and are you reassured by what you have heard?

PRIME MINISTER:

First of all I think we should make it very clear that there is total agreement on the need to make sure that the will of the United Nations is respected and that Iraq should not be able to develop these weapons of mass destruction. And of course that is already the position expressed in numerous UN resolutions in respect of which Saddam, the current Iraqi regime, has been in breach.

We believe that it is necessary to have a fresh resolution that should make it clear that this new weapons inspection regime is qualitatively different and able to do its job properly, and that is the reason why we think it right to go back and build that international consensus inside the UN. And of course if the UN reiterates its will in that way we would expect that will to be respected. It is on that basis that we are discussing these issues.

PRESIDENT PUTIN:

As regards Russia, I can repeat our position once again. Russia has always come out in support of implementation, the whole set of resolutions of the Security Council of the United Nations which have been so far adopted with respect to Iraq. Under the pressure applied by Russia and other participants of the world communities, including the Security Council members, Baghdad has undertaken certain concessions and agreed to accept on its territory inspectors of the UN without any preconditions.

Bearing in mind these circumstances, we believe there are no formal legal grounds to undertake any decision on the basis of the Security Council of the United Nations in this respect. At the same time we agree with our partners, including the Prime Minister of the UK, that in this area we need to take into account the negative experience of the work done by the UN inspectors in that country. In this regard we believe with our partners jointly we should undertake measures and adopt decision to ensure the efficient operation of the UN inspectors on the territory of that country. And with this purpose, we don't exclude the possibility of coming up to some co-ordinated decisions implying the possibility of the adoption of a new UN resolution.

As regards Russia's interest in Iraq, I will share with you the following. Those interests are out there, they have emerged before yesterday and even not ten years ago, but many decades before. And I would like to emphasise the point that it is not only Russia who has an economic stake in Iraq, that includes many other European states as well. And it is our understanding, and we get a sense, and we are quite clear that those countries are also going to protect their interests. At the same time I would like to underscore the point as follows. There are certain things pertaining to policies, to international security and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and these things are out of bargaining at all. Russia has been very consistent, sometimes perhaps even more consistent than our partners in the pursuance of the policy of non-proliferation. We will pursue our policies along those lines in future. This doesn't imply however that we are going to forget about our economic interests.

QUESTION:

My question is you have discussed Iraq and other problems, have you discussed other questions, for example I am interested in the problem of Kaliningrad, whether it has been the subject of discussions, and do you think it will be possible to find mutually acceptable solutions prior to the summit with you which is going to take place in November? And then a similar question to President Putin, whether he has been satisfied with the discussion you have had concerning Kaliningrad.

PRIME MINISTER:

On the subject of Kaliningrad, President Putin made his views very clear to me in a very strong way, that it was essential for Russia that Russian citizens should have the right to travel freely between different parts of Russia. And of course the European Union, as you know, is conducting negotiations at the moment on the basis of the Schengen area, of which Britain is not actually a part, and I very much hope that a solution to this issue can be found and can be found quickly. But certainly I believe that any such solution must be consistent and respect the rights of Russian citizens. For obvious reasons I think it is sensible for me to leave the detail of that negotiation to those that are negotiating ... But I am sure with the necessary goodwill a way through can be found and we will certainly work to that end. I certainly understand its huge importance to the people of Russia.

PRESIDENT PUTIN:

(not complete as answer was inaudible)

I will allow myself only to quote the Prime Minister here. And ... him just saying that in addressing the problem of travelling of the Russian citizens freely from one territory of the Russian Federation to the other part of the Russian Federation, the interests of the Russian citizens and their human rights therefore will be taken into account. And if the Euro Commission takes that advice of the UK Prime Minister and will be well advised by that counsel, we would appreciate that.

QUESTION:

(not complete as question was inaudible)

... Iraq's propaganda ...

PRIME MINISTER:

On your first point, I don't think really I can add to what was said earlier. There are legitimate economic interests that Russia has, indeed along with other countries, and of course we must and will be sensitive to those. But as President Putin himself was saying to you, there is also the big question of the whole issue of weapons of mass destruction and how we control and eliminate them. And so I am sure that we will find a way of beating both those problems.

PRESIDENT PUTIN:

Certainly we did discuss the economic consequences of the solution of the Iraq conflict along different tracks. And I was pleased to find out that the UK Prime Minister, like myself, also believes that the political diplomatic track has not been fully exhausted yet. And as regards the economic consequences, I will have to repeat myself, they are of importance both to us and to other states of the world, including that of the United Kingdom, and we necessarily discussed those. And once again I would plead to you not to perceive our meeting here as a bargain in place of sorts. I in fact had invited the Prime Minister and his spouse here to have this discussion of the whole set of issues pertaining to our interaction, I have not invited them to an oriental bazaar.

Now regarding the data on the possession by Iraq of the weapons of mass destruction, well in this regard if any government, let it be our government, or the UK government, or other governments, would relate some information to the mass media, that is certainly done to shore up their position and this could be seen as a propagandistic step, but I would not try to over-rate its importance from that perspective. Russia does not have in its possession any trustworthy data which would support the existence of nuclear weapons or any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and we have not received from our partners such information as yet. This fact has also been supported by the information which has been despatched by the CIA to the US Congress. We do have apprehensions that such weapons might exist on the territory of Iraq, and this is precisely why we want to see to it that UN inspectors would travel there.

QUESTION:

I would like to pose a question to the Prime Minister of the UK. Mr Blair, you have recently stated the fact that there is fewer possibility today to avoid the war in Iraq. What is your current today's perspective on that issue? And another question to Mr Putin, you said recently that you will not travel to the Prague meeting, who will be representing Russia at that meeting?

PRIME MINISTER:

First of all let me make it clear, conflict is not inevitable, but the disarmament of Iraq of all weapons of mass destruction is. And it is plainly preferable that that happens through the UN inspections and monitoring regime going in there, doing its job properly and closing down any possibility of these weapons being developed. And the stronger and the clearer the signal that the international community gives to the Iraqi regime that they must comply with the United Nations position, then the less likely conflict will be, but we must make sure that this issue is dealt with and dealt with properly one way or another. And that is why I welcome very much the constructive talks that I have had with President Putin today.

And if I may I would just like to add this point about the relationship between, not just Britain and Russia, but the rest of the industrialised world and Russia. Over the past few years I think we have seen a transformation of Russia's position of leadership in the modern world, and that can be seen not just in relation to Afghanistan, but also in relation to the new partnership between Russia and NATO and in the way that Russia increasingly is taking its place at the top table in the economic community of the world also. That relationship is a partnership and it should be a partnership of equals and we should make sure that in that partnership we are taking full account of legitimate Russian concerns, not just about economic interests that they have, but also in respect of the war against terrorism and in respect of how we govern the difficult issues of the world, and I want to make it clear that I am committing my country - Britain - to play its full part in trying to bring about that equality of partnership. And I think that that position has taken a certain amount of courage in the leadership of President Putin and I think we should recognise that.

PRESIDENT PUTIN:

As regards Prague, I can say that one of the events which are planned in the format of the Prague meetings, it is envisaged that the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation will participate there.

QUESTION:

(not complete as question was inaudible)

... weapons of mass destruction ...

PRIME MINISTER:

There may be different perspectives on how sure we can be about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction, but there is one certain way to find out, and that is to let the inspectors back in to do their job, and that is the key point upon which we are both agreed.

PRESIDENT PUTIN:

I might add, had there been no apprehensions concerning the existence of those weapons or their ... so insistent on the question of returning UN inspectors to Iraq. But I would like to divide these two things: apprehensions is one thing; the other thing, at this point in time, we don't have data which would backstop such apprehensions. To remove those apprehensions and the possibility of the recreation of such arms, and I completely agree with the Prime Minister on that score, we will do whatever it takes jointly with the UK and other members of the Security Council to avoid those, and that will be helped by the return of the UN inspectors to Iraq.


ENDS

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