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Putin says Russia-U.S. ties will survive Iraq crisis
April 3, 2003
By Andrei Shukshin

NOVO-OGORYOVO, Russia (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin drove home Moscow's desire to preserve its newfound friendship with Washington Thursday, despite strains over Iraq and a growing tide of anti-U.S. feeling in Russia.

Putin, often strident in his criticism of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, told reporters at a hastily organized news conference that Russia would not let emotions guide its diplomacy.

"Russia has cooperated and will continue to cooperate with the United States," Putin said. "This policy is in Russia's interest and in the interest of most of the international community. I am convinced that at the end of the day ... this is also in the interest of the United States."

Putin spoke at his residence just outside Moscow after one of Russia's most senior Muslim leaders called for a jihad or holy war against the United States.

Russian public opinion has turned sharply against Washington's policies, although street protests have been confined to a handful of demonstrators.

A poll published Thursday by the Public Opinion Foundation found 58 percent of the 1,500 respondents wanted Iraq to win the war. Only 3 percent backed the United States.

"I can understand those people who cannot hold back. I understand and in general agree with their opinions. They are especially understandable after you watch television footage from the front line," Putin said.

"But at the same time, I think it is ill advised to follow emotion while considering or taking any decisions."

Moscow and Washington have built a close friendship. The Kremlin has supported the U.S. war on terror that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on U.S. cities.

But a diplomatic dispute over Iraq, often reminiscent of Cold War rivalry, has strained ties. Russia, with long-standing economic links with Iraq, fears its interests may be ignored in a postwar settlement should Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein be removed.

In an article published in the Friday edition of the Izvestia daily, U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow said the two sides' friendship could survive the Iraq disagreements and vowed the United States would not freeze Russia out of deals struck in postwar Iraq.

"We understand Russia worries that a change in regime will have an impact on existing oil contracts and on the servicing of Iraq's debt to Russia," Vershbow said in a front-page article.

"We call on Russia to participate in discussions on a postwar strategy for Iraq and to supply humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people. This could contribute to strengthening Russia's role in a postwar settlement."

Putin spoke after Secretary of State Colin Powell and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov held talks in Brussels, the first face-to-face meeting between senior officials since the U.S.-led military campaign began two weeks ago.

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