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Bush, Putin Find Little Agreement on Iraq, Iran
Published on Saturday, September 27, 2003 by Knight-Ridder
Bush, Putin Find Little Agreement on Iraq, Iran
by Ron Hutcheson

WASHINGTON - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday rebuffed President Bush's requests for help in two nuclear trouble spots, declining to cut off nuclear assistance to Iran or to provide immediate aid in Iraq.

Emerging from talks that both leaders described as "very frank," diplomatic code that suggests disagreement, Putin declined to cancel a Russian contract in the construction of an $800 million Iranian nuclear power plant that U.S. officials say is a subterfuge for a nuclear weapons program. U.N. inspectors have found traces of weapons-grade enriched uranium at two sites in Iran, adding to fears that the Islamic Republic seeks to build a nuclear bomb.

Putin also said he would withhold a decision to provide Russian involvement in Iraq until the United Nations approves a resolution inviting international help. His position aligns Russia with France and Germany in seeking a larger U.N. role in Iraq's reconstruction and a faster transfer of power from the United States to Iraqi leaders.

Putin defended Russia's sale of nuclear technology to Iran but said he would send "a clear and respectful signal" to Iran's leaders that they should cooperate with international weapons inspectors. U.S. officials have become increasingly concerned about Iran's intentions and about Russia's assistance to the country's nuclear program.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has given Iran until October 31 to prove that it's not seeking nuclear weapons. A new team of weapons inspectors is expected to arrive in the country this week.

The hard-line Islamic clerics who hold supreme power in Iran want to reject the deadline and withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, but reformist political leaders want to head off a possible confrontation with the United States.

"Russia has no desire and no plans to contribute in any way to the creation of weapons of mass destruction, either in Iran or any other region in the world," Putin told reporters after meeting with Bush at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains.

On a second nuclear trouble spot, North Korea, Putin pressed Bush to offer the isolated Communist regime security guarantees if Pyongyang, which already claims to have built several nuclear weapons, rejoins the nonproliferation treaty and cancels its nuclear weapons program. Bush has said the United States doesn't intend to attack North Korea, but he's refused demands for a nonaggression pact.

There was no glossing over the disagreement on Iraq. Putin's insistence on a U.N. resolution as a requirement for Russian involvement increased the pressure on Bush to share power in Iraq with the world organization.

"The degree and the extent and level of Russia's participation in the restoration of Iraq will be determined after we know the parameters of the resolution," Putin said.

Bush, facing opposition to his request for another $20 billion to rebuild Iraq, continuing U.S. casualties and growing concern about extended military deployments and continued callups of National Guard and reserve troops for duty there, didn't hide his disappointment. His visit with Putin came after a week of largely unsuccessful diplomacy aimed at winning more foreign money and manpower in Iraq.

"Vladimir and I had some very frank discussions about Iraq," Bush said. "I understood his position. He understood mine."

Bush and Putin did find common cause in the war on terrorism.

"In this sphere," Putin said, "we act not only as strategic partners, but as allies."

The former KGB officer said U.S. and Russian intelligence agencies routinely share information about potential terrorist attacks and efforts by terrorists to obtain weapons of mass destruction.

In a concession to Putin, Bush listed Chechnya, a breakaway Russian republic, as a battlefront in the war on terrorism. Putin deeply resents international criticism, including some from the United States, over Russia's human rights violations in its war against Chechen rebels.

"Terrorists must be opposed wherever they spread chaos and destruction, including Chechnya," Bush said, adding that the peace there would require an end to terror as well as free elections and respect for human rights.

In one of the few light moments during the 40-minute question-and-answer session with reporters, a Russian journalist ignored Bush's attempts to impose a one-question limit and pressed Bush on restrictive visa policies for Russians seeking to visit the United States.

"And as a follow-up question," the Russian added, "can I be assured that my question will not lead to a denial of visa for me, personally?"

"No. Nyet," Bush replied to laughter.

© Copyright 2003 Knight-Ridder


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