We are not with you and we don't believe you

 

Patrick Wintour in Moscow

Wednesday April 30, 2003

The Guardian

http://www.guardian.co.uk/russia/article/0,2763,946322,00.html

 

Tony Blair's first public attempt to heal the diplomatic wounds of the

Iraq war suffered a humiliating rebuff yesterday when Vladimir Putin, the

Russian president, refused to lift UN sanctions and mocked the

possibility that weapons of mass destruction existed in Iraq.

Mr Putin also clashed with Mr Blair by demanding UN weapons inspectors be

allowed back into Iraq and challenged Mr Blair's vision of a new world

strategic partnership, arguing it would be unacceptable for the US to

dominate the international community.

The public dressing down for Mr Blair came during a 63-minute press

conference staged by the two men at Mr Putin's private residence outside

Moscow. The two men had a fabled special relationship and Mr Blair had

high hopes he would be able to wean Mr Putin away from his new anti-war

alliance with France and Germany.

Mr Blair started with the full diplomatic niceties but became

increasingly animated until he issued a dire warning of a new world order

in which two different poles of power act as rivals to one another. The

world faced a choice between a partnership between the US and the main

countries of the world or a continued "diplomatic stand off", he said.

Mr Blair had been hoping to use his influence to persuade Russia to agree

to the Anglo-US demand to lift sanctions on Iraq in return for giving the

UN an as yet unspecified "vital role" in the reconstruction of Iraq and

its new government.

But Mr Putin said Russia and its partners "believe until clarity is

achieved over whether weapons of mass destruction exist in Iraq,

sanctions should be kept in place". Almost mocking Mr Blair, he went on:

"Where is Saddam? Where are those arsenals of weapons of mass

destruction, if indeed they ever existed? Perhaps Saddam is still hiding

somewhere in a bunker underground, sitting on cases of weapons of mass

destruction and is preparing to blow the whole thing up and bring down

the lives of thousands of Iraqi people."

He added that sanctions could not be lifted since they had been

introduced because Iraq had weapons of mass destruction."It is only the

security council that is in a position to lift those sanctions, after all

they introduced them."

He also derided Mr Blair's talk of a new world order, saying: "If the

decision-making process in such a framework is democratic then that is

something we could agree with, but if decisions are being made by just

one member of the international community and all the others are required

to support them that is something we could not find acceptable."

Mr Putin insisted that the weapons inspectors could return now so that

they could be summoned to any site in Iraq to make a "professional

conclusion" on whether the weapons existed. The inspectors could be

protected by UN or blue-helmeted soldiers along the line of the

settlement reached in Afghanistan. He added that Russia was in a position

to take immediate steps.

The tone and content of Mr Putin's rebuff will cause deep anxiety inside

Downing Street which has been increasingly concerned that, following the

war in Iraq, a new bi-polar world order is established with the US on one

side and France and Germany on the other.

Although Mr Blair said he was not disappointed by the Russian response,

No 10 had hoped for a more flexible position - especially since Iraq's

$8bn outstanding debts to Russia will be examined by the so-called Paris

club, the bankers of the leading industrialised countries.

Downing Street was concerned last night over the implications of the

mini-EU defence summit in Brussels yesterday. Mr Blair said he could not

support such a new European defence institution if it became a threat to

Nato or sought to duplicate its activities.

Mr Blair also revealed a reluctance to become involved in another bout of

diplomatic wrangling primarily with France and Germany over the UN's

involvement in Iraq.

He said: "Getting agreement with the UN is important, and it is important

we get a vital role for the UN, but we are not going back into the

rigmarole we had the last time over the second UN resolution."

 

He underlined the point at his press conference saying the role of the UN

in post-war Iraq would be "the first test" of his proposed new strategic

partnership.

He asked: "Are coalition forces prepared to accept a vital role for the

UN, but are our colleagues on the security council prepared to accept

that our soldiers having fought and died in respect of this war cannot

simply hand Iraq to the sole charge of the UN while the coalition forces

are there on the ground stabilising the situation."

*************************************

Jack Martin

jack.martin1@juno.com

 

 

 

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