Tags: Bush | Putin | Concerned | WMD | Spread

Bush, Putin Concerned by WMD Spread

Sunday, 01 June 2003 12:00 AM

During an hour-long summit at Konstantinovsky Palace in St. Petersburg, both leaders focused on the alarming consequences posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, calling on North Korea and Iran to halt their nuclear programs.

"We strongly urge North Korea to visibly, verifiably, and irreversibly dismantle its nuclear weapons program," Bush said at a joint news conference.

"We are also concerned about Iran's advanced nuclear program and urge Iran to comply in full with its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty," Bush added.

"Russia and the United States have mutual concerns about the advanced Iranian nuclear program. We understand the consequences of Iran having a nuclear weapon ... and we want to work together ... to make sure they do not have a nuclear weapon," Bush said.

Putin said Moscow's and Washington's position on these issues is "much closer than it seems," adding that "President Bush and I have a full understanding on this."

However, disagreements remain, as Putin used the opportunity to question U.S. pressure on Russia over its continuing nuclear cooperation with Iran.

"We are against using the pretext of a nuclear weapons program as a lever in unfair competition against us (in Iran)," Putin said, referring to Russia's $880-million contract to build a nuclear reactor at Iran's nuclear power plant in Bushehr.

"But we will continue working with all, including the United States, in order to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction everywhere, including Iran," Putin said.

Bush said "friends can disagree" and then "move beyond disagreement" to work together to "maintain the peace."

"I appreciate Vladimir Putin's understanding of the issues and his willingness to work with me and others to solve potential problems," Bush said.

Questioned about the apparently fruitless search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Bush insisted that Iraq had possessed such weapons before the war, pointing to the discovery of biological laboratories and weapons systems, even though experts have declined to classify these finds as weapons of mass destruction which were used by the Bush administration as a pretext to launch war on Iraq.

Putin said Russia remained ready to provide its "expertise, experience and resources" to help Iraq rebuild its oil industry.

But Bush said it was up to the Iraqi people and the new -- as yet unformed -- Iraqi administration to decide what role Russia would play in reconstructing the Iraqi economy.

"The Iraqi people will make the decision that is in their best interests," Bush said. Russia has insisted that multi-billion dollar contracts awarded by Saddam Hussein's regime to Russian oil companies for development of oil fields in Iraq be honored by any new administration in Baghdad.

As expected, the summit provided an opportunity for both leaders to put past disagreements on Iraq behind them, with Putin declaring that "the fundamentals of the relations between the United States and Russia are stronger than the forces and events that tested them."

Putin pointed out that the relationship had stood the test of time, and that Russia had voted for a U.S.-backed resolution at the U.N. Security Council to lift sanctions against Iraq.

Bush said he would work with Congress to remove U.S. trade restrictions imposed on the Soviet Union -- something the Kremlin has been pressing the White House to do for over a decade.

Bush also invited Putin to Camp David in September, with Putin nodding acceptance.

The two leaders signed papers formally ratifying the Treaty of Moscow, already ratified by the U.S. Senate and the Russian parliament, reducing both countries' nuclear arsenals by two thirds.

From St. Petersburg, Bush and Putin fly to Evian, France, where they join other world leaders at the G8 summit of leading industrialized states and Russia.

On Saturday evening, at a state dinner marking St. Petersburg's tercentenary attended by some 40 world leaders, Bush approached German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and shook hands with him, saying, "How are you" and exchanging a few words in the first face-to-face contact since the Iraq war caused a deep rift between Washington and Berlin.

Bush had not talked to Schroeder since last November, avoiding contact with the chancellor after Germany and France split NATO and the U.N. Security Council over use of force in Iraq. But both leaders feel the time has come to put the worst of the damage done to the personal relationship behind them in favor of the broader interests of the trans-Atlantic alliance.

Bush is due to meet French President Jacques Chirac at Evian. Bush and Chirac narrowly avoided meeting in St. Petersburg, as Bush arrived late in the day from Poland, while Chirac cut short his visit to St. Petersburg to fly to France where he is to act as host of the G8 summit Sunday through Tuesday.

Copyright 2003 by United Press International.

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During an hour-long summit at Konstantinovsky Palace in St. Petersburg, both leaders focused on the alarming consequences posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, calling on North Korea and Iran to halt their nuclear programs. "We strongly urge North...
Sunday, 01 June 2003 12:00 AM
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