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Russia sees no need for Iraq veto yet, Putin tells French TV
Source: RTR Russia TV, Moscow, in Russian 2020 gmt 11 Feb 03

Russia sees no reason to exercise its veto in the UN Security Council as yet. President Putin has explained in a live interview for French television that the French-German-Russian statement on Iraq was not an attempt to work against anyone, but evidence of Russia's desire for equal dialogue. Putin said the real issue was not just Iraq, but the kind of world left for future generations. He emphasized the need for the primacy of international law. He said Germany and France were insisting on the right to take their own stance, that Russia's opinion appeared to carry less weight than that of Western countries and that the statement was a historic achievement for President Chirac. Putin said he was pleased to call George Bush his friend, but noted that Russia had not received intelligence from the USA on the alleged link between Iraq and al-Qa'idah ahead of Colin Powell's presentation to the UN. The following is the text of the interview carried by Russia TV on 11 February. Subheadings have been inserted editorially:

[Presenter] An interview with the president of Russia [Vladimir Putin] was just broadcast live on the French TF1 television channel. The interview was unusual in all respects, and it is worth looking at in more detail.

Whatever the attitude of a particular Western country to an attack on Iraq, today's Russia is not trying to get anyone into a conflict with anyone else and is not picking an argument with anyone, but is ready to have an equal and level-headed dialogue with all.

The first block of questions during the interview covered the reasons for the rapprochement between Moscow and Paris, the readiness of Russia to use its right of veto in the UN Security Council in respect of strikes on Iraq and the new format of international relations in general.

[Putin] This is not only about Iraq. If I spoke to you using the polished stock phrases of diplomats, I could say that the positions of Russia and France practically coincide or are very close.

Upholding international law in multipolar world

But I would like to repeat that I think this is not only about Iraq, although it is an important issue. But a very much more important issue is what kind of a world do we want to build and what kind of a world will we be handing over to future generations? If we look at the problem from this point of view, we realize that, if we want the world to be more predictable and easier to forecast and therefore more secure, this has to be a multipolar world. And all participants in international relations should adhere to certain rules, namely the rules of international law. This is what all our efforts are directed at. Not at trying to cover up or to create some kind of protective screen for the Baghdad regime but at resolving problems on the basis of shared interests and in keeping with the norms of international law.

As for Russia's opinion on this issue, this is also a large separate issue. Russia always had its own opinion on key issues of development of international relations. Lately, these relations have undergone a substantial transformation. Although we have our own opinion, it is not confrontational in its nature, it does not lead to any further crises, like the Caribbean [Cuban missile] crisis.

Putin pleased to call Bush his friend

I absolutely agree with the president of the United States when he says that not only have the USA and Russia stopped being enemies and adversaries, they have become partners. I fully subscribe to this and I am pleased to call the president of the USA, who, in my view, is a serious politician and a very decent person, my friend.

When we express our opinions, even when these differ from those of others, this does not cause such a strong reaction as the opinion of a member of the Western community, when they start expressing their own opinion. Here everything is viewed differently. I think that members of the Western community are not only insisting on their position on Iraq but also on their right to have their own position. But, I repeat, the earlier we accept the depth of the changes that have taken place in the world the better.

Russia sees no need for veto as yet

As yet, we do not see the need to exercise the right of veto. We expect that we will manage to reach an agreement with all members of the Security Council. So far this is how it has been. We very much prize the unity of the Security Council. If something is adopted today that, in our view, would lead to the unjustified use of force, we will do this, with France or without it.

France, Russia, Germany work for peaceful solution

You know, I would draw your attention to the following.

You are aware of our joint statement - France, Russia and Germany - on Iraq. I think not everyone has understood yet what has happened. I think that not everyone has yet assessed this step. Yes, it is about Iraq, a particular problem.

But I would like to draw your attention to the fact that this the first attempt after the World War II to settle a serious, acute international issue, an acute crisis, other than through blocs. This is the first time an attempt has been made to settle an international security problem outside of any bloc.

I think that such a document is the first brick in the construction of the multipolar world about which I have already spoken. Moreover, I don't believe that such a document could have emerged in any other European capital. It could not have emerged in Russia, because we would have immediately been accused of driving a wedge between America and Europe. Other European countries are not ready for such steps, I think. So if this were going to happen, it could only be in France. I think this is a huge, even historic achievement for President [Jacques] Chirac.

We made a statement - Russia, France, Germany - not in order to create some kind of axis or a bloc. We are working not against anyone, but for something. In this case, [we are working] in favour of resolving an acute international crisis by peaceful means.

I will repeat this one more time - we very much hope that our opinion will be heeded. I think it would be a big mistake to make unilateral steps outside of the boundaries of international law.

Russia not given US intelligence on Saddam link to Al-Qa'idah

[Presenter] Naturally, the famous French host, Patrick Poivre d'Arvor could not help but to use the opportunity to ask questions in clarification, in particular, of the link between Saddam and Al-Qa'idah. This is a theory which is currently being developed by the Americans. This is a theory which many people in Europe view sceptically.

Putin the politician used the opportunity to make use of his real-life experience as an intelligence officer.

[Putin] You know, we received information from our American colleagues about a link between the Iraqi authorities and Al-Qa'idah only very recently, in the United Nations Security Council, when our American friends made a statement to this effect. I became a politician not so long ago. Before this, as you know, I was working in special agencies, intelligence agencies. I used to think that I was so cunning and crafty, that I knew everything, that I understood everything. Yes. Yes. I thought that I knew everything inside out.

But when I started in politics, I understood that I, my Russian colleagues and my French colleagues and other colleagues who work for special agencies are children compared to politicians. In that area, everything was simpler. Strange as it may seem, everything was more direct and open.

We have established a good dialogue with our American friends, between special agencies. But we have never received information of this type from them by the channels of partnership links, as we call them.

We ourselves do not have information that would confirm links between Baghdad and Al-Qa'idah.

Fighting in Chechnya supported by international terrorism

[Presenter] The interview could not pass without questions being asked on Chechnya. The French traditionally keep track of this topic, habitually making use of the construction "the Chechen war".

[Putin] You are totally inaccurate in the expression you have used. You said that a tough and uncompromising war has been in progress for four years. There is no war there. The major terrorist groups have been destroyed. Their infrastructure has been destroyed. They are still capable of launching individual strikes and committing acts of terrorism, but that is all they are capable of. And this capability of theirs will gradually disintegrate into nothing.

That bands of international terrorists are active in Chechnya, it seems to me, no longer requires further substantiation. There aren't any Al-Qa'idah camps left there, but Al-Qa'idah's money is still there and at work. There are instructors who are working there. There are mercenaries from a string of Muslim countries, recruited by radicals. Unfortunately, all this is still there, and, of course, we will be waging a tough and uncompromising fight with these people in pursuit of their utter destruction. There must be no doubt on this point.

At the same time, we understand that, in provoking us into specific tough measures, the terrorists are exposing the civilian population. And I don't want to say that there are no problems there, or that there haven't been any problems of that kind there. Of course, when military action is in progress, or operations are in progress in the fight against terrorism, civilians may suffer, and sometimes do. And it is our aim to keep these negative consequences to a minimum. And, in this regard, we understand the concern of our partners in Europe, including France. Incidentally, the French leadership paid a great deal of attention to Chechnya during our discussions today [11 February].

But I would repeat that it is an obvious fact that the terrorists who are active there are linked to Al-Qa'idah and to international terrorism, and this was, incidentally, also confirmed recently by the French special services, when, in France, then in Germany, in Italy and in Great Britain, terrorists who were planning acts of terrorism, including with the use of chemical and biological weapons, were detained, terrorists who had undergone relevant training on the territory of Chechnya. This is a fact which does not require further substantiation.

But our aim there is not just to fight terrorism. Our aim is to resolve the problem by peaceful political means with the Chechen people, so that the Chechen people are not used as an instrument for the fulfilment of objectives which have nothing in common with the interests of the Chechen people. We have supported the initiative of the Chechen public, and will now be moving over to a process of peaceful settlement. As the first stage in this process, the start of this process, we plan to hold a referendum on the adoption of a constitution for the Chechen Republic.

Russia part of Europe

[Presenter] In his time, French President Charles de Gaulle was the first postwar Western leader to reiterate the well-known geographical, but more to the point political, truth: "Europe ends at the Urals". In other words, Russia is without doubt a part of Europe. Our colleagues from French television asked President Putin how he sees Russia in Europe.

[Putin] Russia is, of course, a European state, both in terms of its geographical location within Europe, and also in terms of its mindset and its culture. What is Europe? I recently met one of France's most respected people in Moscow. He asked this question, and answered it himself: What is European culture? What are the foundations of European culture? It's the culture of Ancient Rome, the culture of Ancient Greece, the culture of Byzantium, in other words, of eastern Christianity.

Unquestionably, Russia is absolutely and completely incorporated in all these three components and cannot conceive of its development without Europe. We welcome the development of unity processes in Europe. I cannot say that all of these developments suit us. We are concerned by certain things. For instance, we often hear it said that dividing lines should be got rid of. But we don't want new dividing lines to emerge. We conduct almost 50 per cent of our trade with Europe. With the admission of new members to the European Community, where certain tough regulations are in effect, our special economic relations with that part of Europe could be severely tested. That's the first thing.

Second, in the past our citizens were able to travel freely, without the need for visas, to the states of Central and Eastern Europe. Now Russia will be deprived of this too. Sometimes one gets the impression that Russia is being pushed for some reason to the sidelines of European policy.

At the same time we hear it said the whole time that everybody wants to develop relations with Russia. So, there are these concerns, but there are also proposals, including some from European politicians, on ways of preventing such a dangerous development of events. We are interested in cooperation and we hope that the situation will develop in a positive way.

[Presenter] That was an interview that was broadcast live by [French] TF1 [television] later in the day, in the evening, less than an hour ago in fact.

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