Published November 22, 2002
PUSHKIN, Russia – President Bush and Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Friday demanded that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein comply with a U.N. Security Council resolution or face "serious consequences."
"We call on Iraq, in strict compliance with (U.N. resolutions) to cooperate fully and unconditionally in its disarmament obligations or face serious consequences," the joint statement read.
The statement was issued as the two leaders wrapped up a meeting in which Bush assured Putin that NATO's eastward expansion would not be a threat to Russia and thanked him for Russia's support of the tough U.N. Iraq resolution.
After the meeting, Putin said he agreed with the United States that it's important "to make sure Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction in its possession," but that it's also important to make the assurance within the context of the U.N. Security Council resolution. He would not indicate whether Russia would lend any military assistance if force were needed in Iraq.
"Diplomats have carried out a very difficult, a very complex work. And we do believe that we have to stay within the framework of the work being carried out by the Security Council of the United Nations," he said.
Bush traded mild Prague, where the NATO summit was held Thursday, for snowy St. Petersburg, where he met with Putin at the golden-domed Catherine's Palace for their seventh meeting since Bush became president.
"Nice palace," Bush said as he entered the building for an 80-minute meeting.
U.S. officials said Putin suggested the meeting as Bush lobbied him a few weeks ago to support the U.N. resolution. Bush immediately agreed to the meeting without consulting his aides, who then had to find a way to fit the brief trip to Russia into a hectic schedule.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov joined Bush on Air Force One for the flight to St. Petersburg.
Before leaving Prague, where he met with dozens of leaders at a European-Atlantic Partnership Council on Friday, the president said: "I'm off to St. Petersburg to visit with our friend Vladimir Putin to assure him that NATO expansion is in Russia's best interests."
After meeting with Putin, Bush repeated that assertion.
"The strategy of NATO is going to be based upon the fact that the Cold War is over; Russia is a friend; Russia is not an enemy," he said. "The expansion of NATO should be welcomed by the Russian people. After all, there are ... nations that are new members of NATO, but nations pledged to peace, and pledged to freedom."
Putin, who has expressed concern about the next round of NATO expansion, said that he takes note of the U.S. position about NATO and does "not rule out the possibility of deepening our relations with the alliance. Of course, in the case if the activities of the alliance are in accord with Russia's national security interests."
The two presidents have a close personal relationship, which Bush says is good for U.S.-Russian relations. It may also help him reassure Putin that the seven once-communist nations, including three former Warsaw Pact members, invited to join NATO will increase Russian stability, not threaten it.
The Russian president also has concerns over Iraq, which owes Russia more than $8 billion for equipment bought from the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Putin wants to know Russia's investments will be protected if the United States and its allies topple Saddam and his government.
Russian sources say the United States has assured Moscow that it will not only protect its investments in Baghdad, it will keep oil prices from tumbling if Saddam is overthrown and Iraqi production soars. The White House has not confirmed that.
In fact, Moscow has suggested that after the strong declaration by NATO and the matching one by Russia, military action to force Saddam to disarm may be more likely.
In an interview with Russian television on Thursday, Bush said that Russia's interests in the region "will be honored" in any post-disarmament or post-war situation.
"We'll be interested in all interests. We have no desire to run the show, to run the country," Bush told Russia's NTV. "We will work to encourage the development of new leadership -- should this happen -- that will recognize the rights of all citizens that live in this country, that will keep the territorial integrity of Iraq intact. And we understand Russia has got interests there, as do other countries."
For his part, Bush continues to say that he hopes the U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq succeed without the need for force, though he doesn't believe Saddam will voluntarily disarm.
The two leaders do see eye-to-eye on the war against terrorism. Bush has supported Russia's handling of the Moscow theater standoff last month, in which narcotic gas was used to knock out the Chechen rebels who had seized 800 hostages. Most of the Chechens were shot, but 128 hostages also died of overexposure to the opiate-based gas.
Aides say the president was to raise the issue of human rights in Chechnya, but he said in that same television interview that the Chechen war is an internal matter for Russia.
At least one NATO newcomer -- Latvia, which was absorbed into the Soviet Union in 1940 -- voiced some skepticism about nationalist sentiment in Russia.
"I hope that this step will be a reminder to those forces in Russia who may still think in terms of the former Soviet empire that those days are gone," said President Vaira Vike Freiberga. "Those days are gone -- they are on the dust heap of history," he said.
After departing Russia, Bush went to Vilnius, Lithuania, one of NATO's new members. After that, he is headed to Bucharest, Romania, another new NATO member.
Bush says his message in those capitals will focus on freedom. Aides say he'll be greeted by the largest crowds of his presidency.
Fox News' Wendell Goler and the Associated Press contributed to this report.