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Putin And Blair Joint Press Conference and Q&As

Russian President Vladimir Putin Statement to the Press and Replies to Questions Following Talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Novo-Ogaryovo,

Esteemed ladies and gentlemen. I want to note with satisfaction that the consultations with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, have a regular character and always, just as now, pass in a constructive and beneficial atmosphere.

Today we discussed a broad range of pressing international and bilateral issues, and on many of them we stated essentially very close positions. I am convinced Russian-British interaction has a great strategic importance, both for our states and for international relations as a whole, because the two countries are permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Serious attention was paid during the meeting to deepening interaction between Russia and the EU, to the upcoming meeting and to the EU-Russia summit in St. Petersburg at the end of this May.

We talked about the situation in the Middle East, on the Korean peninsula and in Afghanistan, and discussed a wide spectrum of bilateral problems.

Of course, serious attention was paid to the situation around Iraq.

The Russian stand in questions of the post-conflict reconstruction of the country, just as previously with regard to the methods of resolving the Iraq crisis, is consistent and completely transparent.

After the end of the war the central role of the UN should be not only restored, but also enhanced.

The central issue today is the solution of the humanitarian problems of the Iraqi people. Russia consistently favored both a softening and even the lifting of the sanctions against Iraq in its time. However our Security Council partners considered that until certainty was established regarding the existence or absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the sanctions should remain in place. And we agreed with this position. We did the maximum possible to organize a system of effective inspections by UNMOVIC and IAEA. These organizations, as is known, did not discover any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Neither have those weapons been discovered today, two weeks after the end of the hostilities.

Questions remain, despite the change in the situation in Iraq. Where is Saddam, where are those arsenals if they did really exist? What is happening to them? Maybe Saddam somewhere sits in a secret bunker and is just planning soon at the last seconds to blow up all of these things, endangering hundreds of human lives. We know nothing about this. These questions have to be answered.

Maybe nothing of this will happen. But we must think about this, we are compelled to think about it. And somehow to respond.

At the same time, it seems, today it is necessary to concentrate and calmly to determine the following.

First, what actions need to be taken to solve the country's humanitarian problems immediately.

And second, how the international community can actually and legally bring to an end the issue of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

To solve the first task, we think it is necessary, especially now, at the period of anarchy in Iraq, to ensure under UN control the implementation of the Oil for Food program. This program cannot only be backed, it can be developed. Because if earlier it could be said that the Iraqi regime was stealing a part of the funds, now there is no Iraqi regime and there is no one to steal. It is necessary to work on this problem, to employ the available mechanisms under the control of the international community.

As to weapons of mass destruction, there are many possibilities and variants for securing inspections even in the complicated postwar conditions. If something is discovered, empty barrels should not necessarily be shown on television, but rather UN inspectors need to be quickly and promptly called. They could on the ground examine everything and draw their expert conclusions. Inspectors could work also under blue helmet cover in Iraq. Thought could also be given to different forms of an international presence for the maintenance of peace and stability in Iraq similarly as, for example, we solved this problem in Afghanistan.

Russia stated more than once and is stating its readiness to take an active, direct part in the activities of the UN inspectors in Iraq. However in any case the main task is to ensure the adoption of decisions which would take into consideration the lawful interests of the Iraqi people and would be based on an unconditional respect of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq. The Iraqi people have a full right to determine their destiny themselves and without outside pressure.

We also spoke about Iraq's debts. The position of Russia is well known. We are ready to discuss this problem. Of course, in the framework of the Paris Club, of which Russia is a full-fledged member.

I want to say that we discussed very many other questions. And I would like to express satisfaction with the outcomes of the talks. And I very much hope that the constructive cooperation between Russia and Britain will receive its continuation, will be embodied in concrete, practical actions.

I want to thank the Prime Minister for accepting my invitation and arriving in Russia for these consultations. And I must say that, despite the different approaches to the problem of resolving the Iraq crisis, we have an understanding of the fact that we can and should tackle very many things jointly, that we should bring our positions closer.

Thank you.

Question: We would like to once more specify how you envision the postwar reconstruction of Iraq, and the role of the United Nations in this process. And a question to Mr. Blair: You were one of the initiators of the establishment of the Russia-NATO Council. How do you envision the further deepening and expansion of interaction between Russia and the EU?

President Putin (adding to what Blair said): To us, the Prime Minister's proposal regarding a three-phase settlement is acceptable. We believe that this is a good basis for discussing the problem and bringing the positions closer. I hold that in all the stages the role of the UN and its Security Council should be designated. Of course, it is necessary that each stage should be well elaborated and prepared. But we believe that to drag out the transfer of power to the Iraqi people would be unjustified. That is, this should all happen quickly enough.

And my second remark is that in starting work on this post-conflict settlement, we should initially determine the principles of the settlement as a whole. In this connection we regard as absolutely acceptable the proposal of Mexico, which did exactly come up with a similar initiative. And well, finally, we spoke with the Prime Minister about the possibility to promptly activate the capabilities of the UN Secretary General. This requires separate discussion, but in principle, it is the right position, it can be discussed.

Question: President Putin, we've noted that you had chaffed at the question of weapons of mass destruction. You doubt that they exist in Iraq? Do you believe it useful to link the solution of this question to the lifting of sanctions, which will help the Iraqi people? A question to Mr. Blair: You are disappointed by the position of President Putin on the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

President Putin: It may have sounded ironical, what I said with regard to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but there is no irony here. Simply we ought to be more consistent in our actions and base these actions on certain realities. Not to forget about these realities. Not to forget from where it arose and on the basis of what. We were opposed to military actions - you know it. Still, they began. And the chief reason for the start of military actions, as we remember, was the necessity to search for weapons of mass destruction. The Iraqi regime had asserted that it had no weapons of mass destruction. But still, we supported our colleagues in the UN Security Council, and adopted the appropriate decisions on inspections because we doubted the sincerity of the Iraqi regime. We did not know for sure whether the weapons existed there or not.

I am speaking without any irony. Now it is necessary to understand: Did they exist or not, after all? If they did, then where are they?

And one more important aspect of this problem. I so understand that the coalition started military actions also on the assumption that the weapons existed. If we suppose that this is so, then these arsenals should exist somewhere. Are we certain that all those who were to activate them are destroyed or arrested. There is no such certainty either.

Or perhaps they handed over or are going to hand over these weapons to terrorist organizations? That threat is also not removed. We can say nothing about this. I simply want to be understood: I believe that this threat is not removed, that an answer to these questions is not yet available. And so long as we do not get these questions answered, we cannot feel calm and safe. But this does not mean that we are ready to chaff at the situation. We are ready to work together in order to solve these problems just as we did it jointly for many years, working in a sufficiently coordinated way. Although not without problems, still we used to find a common decision within the UN Security Council for twelve years. And then it is necessary for purely legal and factual reasons to finish this business. I have already spoken about this in my statement.

Legal sanctions were imposed in relation to suspicions of there being weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. They can be lifted after the suspicions have disappeared. And only he can lift these sanctions who appointed them - the Security Council of the United Nations. There is nothing new in my position, the Prime Minister had known it beforehand. We often speak by telephone and did so before that. He knows my logic perfectly well. The problem is not simple, despite the end of the hostilities. But I want to once again stress: we are ready to work together in order to solve it conclusively.

Question: Mr. Blair, in your interview with The Financial Times you spoke of a unipolar world in terms of the creation of a single power center of Europe and the US. Could you explain in greater detail what is meant and we would like to know the opinion of the Russian President on that score. And a question to the two leaders. While the war was going on in Iraq, weapons of mass destruction became a reality in other regions of the world, more specifically, in North Korea? How are you going to deal with this problem?

President Putin (adding to what Blair said): I already told Mr. Prime Minister that I had also acquainted myself with his Financial Times interview. We had a little discussion on this theme with him today. I expressed the thought that this is an interesting article, an interesting interview. You know our position: We consider that the world must be multipolar.

And I drew my colleague's attention to the fact that he speaks of Europe and the United States, but at the same time points out the necessity of a strategic partnership between this center of power and Russia. And also there he mentions, as far as I can remember, the People's Republic of China. But these are already elements of multipolarity. As a minimum, elements of multipolarity.

If, however, we are to look upon this as the necessity to combine efforts around all these countries, all these centers of power, around the basic principles of international existence, around the principles of international stability and security, then in this sense I, of course, agree with this. Then, for me, another thing is important - it matters on just what principles decisions are to be adopted within the framework of this community. If on democratic principles, then I think that this will suit all. If on a different basis, if all this large community is called upon to serve the interests of only one member of the international community, then I think that this can hardly be acceptable.

And I think that the coordination of actions, actions on the basis of common, agreed principles is precisely of the utmost importance in tackling the other problem you mentioned - a major problem of the 21st century - the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction. With regard to North Korea, our position is well known. I shall restate it once more.

We are for the denuclearized status of the Korean peninsula. But I think that it will be possible to solve this question in an effective and quite painless way solely in the course of negotiations with due regard for the interests of all the concerned parties.

Question: The British Prime Minister said that if we act incorrectly, we can create anew the same kind of differences and splits in the international community as existed during the Cold War. Maybe - and, perhaps, you will comment on this - we have become witnesses of such a split today? This is the first question. And the next question to President Putin. What do you think the implications are if the UN fails to be involved in finding solutions to the Iraq problem, and does not take a proper place in this process? Maybe this will once again be evidence of the new split?

President Putin (adding to what Blair said): Answering the first part of your question, I can say that my opinion is very close to what the Prime Minister has now formulated. Of course, the Cold War was based on the contradiction between the two poles of power, dictated by the difference in ideological approaches. That situation does not exist now, and a return to it is impossible. But a split in the international community, of course, will not allow us to effectively tackle the problems connected with the present day challenges, such as the spread of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. Anyway, I can assure you that the actions of Russia will not be directed towards any confrontation whatsoever. On the contrary, we shall be striving for cooperation.

With regard to the second part of your question - whether a settlement of the Iraq crisis is possible at the postwar phase without the UN and will this not bring about a further disagreement on the international scene - to both these questions I respond in the affirmative. Of course, it is possible: the war, after all, began without UN authorization. So one can imagine ignoring the UN will continue in the future as well. I can imagine that.

It is unlikely that such a settlement will be a long-term one. It is unlikely that it will be effective. And it is unlikely that it will be just. This will not lead to a consolidation on the international scene of the forces of counteraction against the major threats of the 21st century. In order not to allow such a negative development of events, it is precisely for this purpose that the Prime Minister and I met today, it is precisely on this problem that we are working. And I today had the opportunity to once again see for myself that the British Prime Minister is doing a lot for that.

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