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Bush Heads for Russia Meeting

Friday, 22 November 2002 12:00 AM

Bush will meet Putin at a stopover in St. Petersburg and continue onto Vilnius Lithuania where he has meetings planned with presidents of three Baltic states just welcomed to the NATO alliance.

Seven states were added to NATO, and several of them were either Warsaw Pact members or formerly parts of the old Soviet Union. White House aides said Bush's trip to Russia is to underscore his belief that Russia is no longer an enemy and that this expansion of NATO is no threat. NATO was formed solely to protect Western Europe against an invasion by the Soviet Union.

Bush told Russia's NTV television in an interview Thursday that he had heard people blame Russia for the loss of life as security forces stopped a Chechnyan rebel takeover of a Moscow theater last month, "but the people who are to blame are the terrorists. They need to be held to account."

Bush said "the fact that 800 citizens could have been killed by terrorists put my friend Vladimir Putin in a very difficult situation. And he handled it as best he could. He did what he had to do to save life."

The president said nevertheless the U.S. position on Chechnya is that the uprising be solved peacefully. "This is an issue within Russia and I will continue to work with Vladamir Putin as best I can to encourage him there be a peaceful resolution of the Chechnyan issue." International humanitarian groups have criticized the Russian forces for alleged violations in Chechnya and for using a poison gas that killed hostages as well as the militants in the Moscow theater.

Bush also told Russian television that in the event of war with Iraq, Russian interests there "will be honored."

Though Bush said he hoped war could be avoided by Saddam Hussein choosing to disarm, "if he doesn't disarm, then we'll disarm him in the name of peace ... We have no desire to run the show, to run the country." Bush said the United States would work to keep the "territorial integrity" of Iraq intact and will "recognize the rights of all citizens."

"We understand that Russia has interests there just as do other countries. And of course those interests will be honored."

Earlier, U.S. officials lauded the "powerful statement" Bush received from NATO.

Calling the NATO summit in Prague the most historic since the alliance's inception in 1949, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice told reporters the alliance's statement, one that demanded Iraq comply with the United Nations or face "serious consequences," is a "strong statement to the Iraqis that the world is united in the demand that Iraq disarm."

Rice said Iraq "is only going to be convinced to disarm, and therefore create a possibility of a peaceful resolution to this crisis, if Iraq believes that the world is united in insisting on disarmament."

Asked if the NATO statement meant the 19 original members and the seven voted in on Thursday could be relied on to fight if force became necessary, Rice said, "It is really too early to talk about what military action will be needed or what military contributions might be needed."

She acknowledged the United States has sought assistance in the event of war from 50 countries, which would include numerous states outside the 19 NATO members and the members of the U.N. Security Council that voted for its resolution, but she said she had no information on how many had agreed to help or how many refused.

She and two other senior Bush officials who briefed reporters turned aside questions about whether France and Germany fully supported war in Iraq, by noting that both countries agreed to the alliance's statement.

Rice and the other officials, who declined to be quoted by name or title, de-emphasized the deadline of Dec. 8, 2002, when Iraq is supposed to give the United Nations a complete list of all its biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programs. Bush Wednesday warned Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein not to lie in this disclosure.

"Deception this time will not be tolerated," Bush said.

Rice said Saddam's answer by Dec. 8 would have to be examined by Western intelligence services and the U.N. arms inspections before any conclusion could be made about whether it is in compliance. Another senior official was more blunt, saying the date was not a "trigger to war."

Earlier, the French had objected to this date as premature to make a decision on military action.

The language of the statement was proposed by the United States and adopted by NATO at "warp speed" for a body known for its caution. Rice and the other officials called it some of the most direct action ever to come from the alliance.

They also commended NATO's decision to field a 21,000-person rapid-deployment force. Although NATO has had such a force -- it was projected in Kosovo, for instance -- it had not operated off the European continent.

Under the plan proposed by the United States and pushed by NATO, the new force will have the ability to transport and support itself in such remote battlegrounds as Afghanistan. The members will foot the cost of C-17 heavy-lift aircraft, air-refueling capabilities, electronic-guided weapons and unmanned air surveillance vehicles.

"I think this was the most historic NATO summit since 1949," said one top Bush official. "We have essentially been reconstructing the old NATO and building a new one."

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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Bush will meet Putin at a stopover in St. Petersburg and continue onto Vilnius Lithuania where he has meetings planned with presidents of three Baltic states just welcomed to the NATO alliance. Seven states were added to NATO, and several of them were either Warsaw Pact...
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Friday, 22 November 2002 12:00 AM
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