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ARABS-RUSSIAN RELATIONS - Oct. 4 - Putin On Iraq, Iran & US Ties.

In a 3-hour interview with the NYT, Pres. Putin says the US faced the possibility of a prolonged, bloody and ultimately futile war in Iraq like the one that mired the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. He says Iraq could "become a new centre, a new magnet for all destructive elements". He adds: "a great number of members of different terrorist organisations" have been drawn into Iraq since the fall of Saddam. To respond to this emerging threat, he says, Bush must "move quickly to restore sovereignty to Iraqis and to secure a new UN resolution that would clearly define how long international forces would remain in Iraq. How are the local population to treat forces whose name is the occupying force?" (suggesting that further hostility to the US is inevitable unless its occupation of Iraq receives the international legitimacy it now lacks). Putin says Russia is prepared to offer Iraq partial relief on the $8 bn it was owed, but only in co-ordination with other major creditor nations grouped in the Paris Club. (The US has been struggling to persuade European allies to make significant financial contributions to help rebuild Iraq). Putin repeatedly characterised Russia's relations with the US, particularly his own with Bush, as close and frank - those of a partner; even, at times, an ally. But he is critical of US complaints about Chechnya, of humiliating new visa requirements for Russians, of what he called lingering Cold War habits of mind, and of the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq, which he calls "an error". He says Saddam's government was, with reason, called "a criminal one". But he disputes one of Bush's core justifications for attacking Iraq in March: its alleged ties to international Islamic militancy and terrorism. Rather, he says the invasion of Iraq created a terrorist haven where one did not exist previously. "It struggled against the fundamentalists", Putin says of Saddam's government. "He either exterminated them physically or put them in jail or just sent them into exile". Now, he adds, with Saddam gone, "the coalition forces received two enemies at once - both the remains of the Saddam regime who fight with them and those who Saddam himself had fought in the past - the fundamentalists". He rules out, "for now", sending Russian troops to help in Iraq and says while a variety of international military contingents provide political support for the US in Iraq, they are not much use in other respects because they "abuse alcohol", "begin to sell weapons" and only think about "fleeing as soon as possible". He declines to say which countries' soldiers he has in mind. (Several dozen nations have contributed to the US-led effort in Iraq - including Poland, Romania, Ukraine, Spain, Portugal and Mongolia - usually with small contingents). Putin does not identify the militants entering Iraq but says they came "from all the Muslim world". These militants, he says, might now find themselves at ease in Iraq, as they once were among the Afghans, and the danger of a decade-long struggle like the one fought by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s exists. Such fears, he adds, "are not groundless". (Putin spoke at his wooded presidential compound in Novo-Ogaryovo, outside Moscow. The NYT interviewer says he appeared relaxed, "but he was also fiercely concentrated, speaking animatedly at times and displaying his growing understanding of English by correcting an interpreter on his use of particular words. As he did during his recent trip to the US, he seemed eager to present a softer, more congenial image - perhaps in response to a flurry of advertisements, protests and newspaper columns suggesting that he was an autocrat who is reversing Russia's democracy. Putin intermittently stroked his black Labrador, Koni, who bounded in halfway through the interview"). Putin says he sought to address Bush's concerns about construction of a nuclear reactor in Iran by insisting that Iran agree to return any spent nuclear fuel (an agreement that has not yet been sealed). He complains that US and European companies with contracts in technologies that also assist Iran's nuclear ambitions (he does not cite them) have not faced sanctions, as some Russian companies have. He reiterates his call on Iran's leaders to accept expanded inspections of their nuclear facilities, saying they have no reason to object if they had nothing to hide. He says: "We are not only hearing what our US partners are telling us, we are listening to what they have to say. And we are finding that some of their assertions are justified".
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 4, 2003
Previous Article:ARABS-ISRAEL - Oct. 4 - Islamic Jihad Bomber Kills 19.
Next Article:ARABS-UN - Sept. 30 - Condemnation Of Israeli Wall Urged.

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