Schroeder, Putin Renew Call for Peaceful Solution

The German and Russian leaders on Sunday renewed their calls for a peaceful resolution in Iraq, restating their opposition to any U.S.-led war to disarm and oust Saddam Hussein.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and President Vladimir Putin underscored their view that U.N. weapons inspectors should be given more time to search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

"We are convinced that efforts for a peaceful resolution of the situation regarding Iraq should be persistently continued," Putin told a news conference after talks with Schroeder in Berlin.

In Baghdad Sunday, chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix said he preferred giving inspectors more time as well rather than endorsing U.S.-led attack. Blix made the comments at the end of two days of talks with Iraqi officials in which he and U.N. nuclear watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei pressed Baghdad to deepen cooperation with the inspection regime.

Schroeder said: "It is my aim, and that of the president, that the conflict that exists there be solved with peaceful means."

He said the priority was to discover whether Iraq has any weapons of mass destruction.

"That is why both of us are of the view that they (the inspectors) should continue their work," Schroeder said.

Schroeder and Putin did not elaborate on a German-French initiative to bolster weapons inspections, reportedly including a proposal to send thousands of U.N. soldiers to effectively sideline Iraq President Saddam Hussein.

U.S. officials have sharply criticized the idea, saying it diverts from the purpose of making Saddam disarm.

Earlier, Putin emphasized the importance of friendly ties between the two countries Sunday before his talks with the German leader.

Putin addressed a gala ceremony at a Berlin concert hall that opened a two-year program of hundreds of cultural events in Germany and Russia.

"The mutual attraction of our two countries is evident," Putin told the audience of several hundred, which included top government officials and business leaders. "Cultural ties are the foundation of successful cooperation."

The roughly 350 culture events, ranging from film festivals to readings and concerts, are designed to boost relations between two World War II enemies that have grown closer especially since Putin took power. A KGB agent in East Germany in communist times, he speaks fluent German -- though he addressed Sunday's audience through a translator.

"The ice age in our relations belongs to the past," Putin noted.