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Putin Joins Bush vs. Saddam but Warns of Saudis, Pakistan

Friday, 22 November 2002 12:00 AM

After a 1 1/2-hour meeting at the Catherine Palace, President Bush and Putin briefed reporters on what Putin called a "very, very frank" discussion. The Russian president said Moscow would work to disarm Iraq, but stressed that it should be through the United Nations and should allow the inspectors to do their work.

"We call on Iraq, in strict compliance with [U.N. resolutions] to cooperate fully and unconditionally in its disarmament obligations or face serious consequences," the two presidents' joint statement read.

Putin then forcefully suggested the war on terror should be ferreting out the sources of financial support for terrorists. He commented that U.S. officials have said that most of the 19 hijackers who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks were from Saudi Arabia.

Putin brought up the search for chief al-Qaeda terrorist Osama bin Laden and lauded the efforts of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, but then asked: "What can happen with armies armed with weapons that exist in Pakistan, including weapons of mass destruction? We are not sure on that aspect, and we should not forget about that."

A White House official said he understood Putin's remarks to suggest the war on terror should involve all nations and was not a rebuke that America's allies should put their own house in order before taking on Iraq.

Bush said he traveled to St. Petersburg to reassure the Russian people that the expansion of NATO should be something they welcome. Putin, too, said Russia hoped to have a "positive development of our relations with all NATO countries."

The meeting, almost impromptu, according to White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, was set several weeks ago in a telephone call between the two leaders. In part, White House aides said privately that it was deemed appropriate to meet with Putin before Bush headed for Lithuania later Friday to meet with the presidents of the three Baltic republics Saturday and later to visit Romania, a former member of the Warsaw Pact.

NATO's expansion this week came from the collapse of the old Soviet Union and the loss of Russian power. Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania were once part of the Soviet Union, and Romania was conquered by Soviet invaders at the end of World War II and then taken over by communists.

The president and first lady Laura Bush landed in the snowy, historic home of Russian czars shortly after 3:30 p.m. and met with Putin and his wife at the Catherine Palace, which guidebooks call a "a small but cozy palace" built by Peter I for his consort Catherine.

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

Russian forces used a chemical compound to overcome the Chechen separatist Muslims that resulted in the deaths of many of the 119 hostages who lost their lives. Forty-one Chechen terrorists were killed.

Bush said that "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 was that the uprising be solved peacefully. "This is an issue within Russia, and I will continue to work with Vladimir Putin as best I can to encourage him there be a peaceful resolution of the Chechen 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 terrorists in freeing the Moscow theater.

Bush told Russian television that in event of war with Iraq, Russian interests "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," he said.

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 also demanded Iraq comply with the United Nations or face "serious consequences," was 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."

Bush clearly wants the support of Russia, which has major oil holdings and other investments in Iraq and can be influential in persuading Saddam Hussein to bring the crisis to a peaceful conclusion.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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After a 1 1/2-hour meeting at the Catherine Palace, President Bush and Putin briefed reporters on what Putin called a "very, very frank" discussion.The Russian president said Moscow would work to disarm Iraq, but stressed that it should be through the United Nations and...
Friday, 22 November 2002 12:00 AM
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