ST.PETERSBURG, Russia April 11 —
President Vladimir Putin said Friday he welcomed the fall of
Saddam Hussein, but called the U.S.-led war in Iraq illegitimate and
a threat to international law.
Speaking after a summit with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
and French President Jacques Chirac, Putin signaled Russia was ready
to cooperate with U.S.-led coalition forces on reconstruction,
saying Moscow would consider writing off Baghdad's debts.
But Putin also criticized the United States for failing to find
weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which he said was the only
justification for war.
"Even in the most acute moment of the fight for its survival, the
Iraqi regime did not use such (weapons)," Putin said. "If in the
last moment of its existence it did not use them, it means they do
Earlier, Putin said he was not sorry to see Saddam go.
"Obviously the toppling of a tyrannical regime was a plus. But
the human losses, the humanitarian catastrophe, the destruction are
all negatives," Putin told a forum of German and Russian politicians
and businessmen before the summit started.
"We must remember that up to 80 percent of the world's nations do
not meet European democratic standards, but only the people of these
nations can determine their future. The principle of sovereignty
should remain unshakable," Putin said. "And another question is: Are
those nations ready for the introduction of democracy?"
Putin, Schroeder and Chirac said the United Nations should now be
given a leading role in Iraq.
"The task of restoring the political, economic and social system
of Iraq is enormous," Chirac said. "Only the United Nations has the
legitimacy to do that."
Schroeder said that details of the peace process in Iraq could be
discussed with the U.S.-led coalition "but we must reach agreement
on the aegis" the United Nations.
President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said earlier
this week that the United Nations should play a vital role in
rebuilding Iraq but that its role had not been defined.
U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz flatly told a Senate
panel Thursday that the United Nations "can't be in charge."
Wolfowitz also suggested that Russia, France and Germany could
contribute to postwar reconstruction by writing off Iraq's
Russia is owed at least $7 billion in Soviet-era debt by Baghdad
and is seeking to protect lucrative contracts signed by Russian
companies to develop Iraq's oil industry.
Putin said at the news conference that Moscow would be ready for
talks on the debt.
"Some people shot, some people stole, and now someone has to pay
for that," he said.
Chirac and Schroeder said the issue should be decided within the
Paris Club of creditor nations, but Schroeder added:
"There must be a legitimate government that appeals for debt
relief. There is no such government yet ... so it doesn't make any
sense to discuss this issue."
The Russian Foreign Ministry had earlier rejected Wolfowitz's
proposal, saying it was "premature" to talk about Iraq's debts and
that any discussions on the subject would be held "with a legal
Iraqi government in accordance with U.N. resolutions."
Putin, who dominated the news conference, cautioned against what
he called "the export of capitalist, democratic revolution" playing
off the theory of the export of the socialist revolution, which
dominated the one-time Communist world for decades.
"If we allow ourselves to do that, the world will end up on a
slippery slope toward an endless series of military conflicts. We
cannot allow that to happen," Putin said.
|Russian President Vladimir Putin
speaks as French President Jacques Chirac, left, and German
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder listen during a press conference
in St.Petersburg, Russia, Friday, April 11, 2003. The three
leaders said that the United Nations should take the lead in
the postwar reconsctruction of Iraq. (AP Photo/Misha
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