Union Tribune

November 23, 2002 

Putin cautions Bush to follow U.N. on Iraq

By George E. Condon Jr. 

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia Russian President Vladimir Putin
yesterday cautioned President Bush to stay within the strictures
of the United Nations regarding Iraq, but joined him in warning
Iraq that it faces "serious consequences" if it fails to fully disarm.

After conferring with Bush in St. Petersburg, Russia, Putin also
expressed concern about two key U.S. allies in the war against
terrorism, suggesting they are too protective of terrorists in
their countries.

Bush came to Putin's hometown directly from the NATO summit
in Prague to reassure the Russian leader that a new and bigger
Western alliance does not threaten Russia.

But when the two emerged from their talks, both alluded to
disagreements between them. 

And those disagreements went beyond Putin's well-known
unhappiness with the decision to enlarge NATO by seven
countries, three of whom were a part of the Soviet Union.

The White House shed little light on the meeting, which Putin
described as "very, very frank," a diplomatic phrase that signals
a contentious session.

In turn, Bush likened the talks to a meeting between two friends
who are "frank" in discussing their disagreements.

On Iraq, Bush thanked Putin for Russia's recent support for the
U.N. Security Council resolution returning arms inspectors to
Iraq with the goal of disarming Saddam Hussein.

Putin added, "We agree with the president of the United States
and his colleagues who say that we have to make sure that Iraq
has no weapons of mass destruction."

The two men also issued a statement throwing their full weight
behind the Security Council resolution ordering a resumption of
arms inspections. 

"We call on Iraq . . . to cooperate fully and unconditionally in its
disarmament obligations or face serious consequences," said the

But Putin, in a brief session with reporters, went beyond the
official statement, stressing that the U.N. timetable must be
followed, a reflection of concern in Russia that the United States
could on its own launch a military operation on Iraq.

"Diplomats have carried out a very difficult, a very complex
work," Putin said. "And we do believe that we have to stay within
the framework of the work being carried out by the Security
Council of the United Nations."

On the war against terror, he promised to continue to work with
the United States in tracking down terrorists.

But with all the recent focus on Iraq, he gently recalled areas
where the fight against terrorists is lagging.

In a surprise twist to the meeting, Putin had an unexpected
answer when asked whether Russia would provide troops to aid
a military operation in Iraq. In response, he complained of
countries that "support terror."

Two allies faulted

Faulting the actions of two U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and
Pakistan he suggested they bear some responsibility for the
spread of terrorism.

"We should not forget about those who finance terrorism," he
said. "Of the 19 terrorists who committed the main attacks on
Sept. 11th against the United States, 16 are citizens of Saudi
Arabia, and we should not forget about that."

Putin overstated by one 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis.

He also made a pointed reference to Pakistan's nuclear weapons
program and the reports that Pakistanis likely helped terrorist
leader Osama bin Laden escape.

"Now where has Osama bin Laden taken refuge? They say that
somewhere between Afghanistan and Pakistan," Putin said.

While voicing support for Pakistani leader Gen. Pervez
Musharraf, Putin said, "But 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."

Bush also used the session, held in an ornate 18th-century
palace built for Catherine I, to try to convince Putin that the
North Atlantic Treaty Organization is no threat to Russia,
despite the decision in Prague to invite seven countries to join.

"Russia is our friend; we've got a lot of interests together," Bush
said. "We must continue our cooperation in the war on terror,
and the expansion of NATO should be welcomed by the Russian

Baltic states

The Kremlin vigorously opposed the earlier round of NATO
expansion when the alliance first came to Russia's borders. But
while it eventually accepted those new members Poland,
Hungary and the Czech Republic Russia made it clear then that
it would not accept NATO membership for any of the Baltic
states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

When those three parts of what had been the Soviet Union were,
indeed, included in the newest batch of NATO members, Putin
was displeased.

But he chose to accept what was, in effect, a done deal rather
than endanger the improved relations he and Bush had forged.

"You know our position well," said Putin of expansion. "We do
not believe that this has been necessitated . . . but we hope to
have positive development of our relations with all NATO

He added, "We do not rule out the possibility of deepening our
relations with the alliance."

The other countries invited to join the alliance were Bulgaria,
Slovakia, Slovenia and Romania.

This was the seventh meeting of the two leaders and the agenda
was by now familiar Iraq, proliferation, North Korea, Russia's
efforts to deal with the breakaway republic of Chechnya, and

Hostage deaths

Chechnya took on more urgency in the wake of last month's
takeover of a Moscow theater by Chechen terrorists.

One hundred twenty-eight hostages and 41 Chechen rebels died
after Putin approved the use of a gas to put the captors to sleep.
Bush has staunchly defended Putin's actions while still nudging
Russia toward finding a political solution to the Chechnya

From the snow and cold of Russia's palaces, the president flew to
what is expected to be a warm reception in Vilnius, capital city
of Lithuania, one of the countries invited into NATO. The White
House expects up to 50,000 Lithuanians to cheer Bush during a
speech this morning, and 100,000 more in Bucharest, Romania,
the final stop on his four-country, five-day European swing.

Before leaving Prague, the president met with leaders of the
46-nation Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, praising their
affiliation with the alliance.

"The purpose of the partnership, as we see it, is to promote
freedom and democracy, and to strengthen the security and
stability of the Euro-Atlantic area," he said. 

But he also warned some leaders that closer ties with NATO
would require better records on human rights.

"The declarations by these countries must be met with actions,"
he said. "We must be partners in the war on terrorism. We must
be partners who share common values. We look to our friends to
create a level playing field for democratic elections."

The prime targets of Bush's criticism were Belarus and Ukraine.