Putin Agrees Iran Poses Nuclear Threat
SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) _ Edging closer to the Bush administration’s view, Russian President Vladimir Putin is registering concern about Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions and there will be further discussion of the issue when Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov holds talks in Washington next week, a senior U.S. official said.
Putin and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov did not get into specifics in talks with Powell in Moscow on Wednesday, but it was apparent to the U.S. side that findings by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran has a vigorous weapons program was getting through to the Russians.
The Russians made clear they, too, are concerned about nuclear activity in Iran and they do not want a nuclear-armed Iran in the neighborhood, the official said Thursday.
The issue is on the agenda for President Bush’s visit to St. Petersburg June 1 for talks with Putin. The Russian president is trying to establish a positive basis for the talks, said the official on condition of anonymity.
The Russian defense minister is to hold talks in Washington May 21-22.
Powell flew Thursday to Bulgaria’s capital to thank the Eastern European country for its support in the war with Iraq. The stop also marks the 100th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and the United States.
Putin tried to move past the U.S.-Russian split over the Iraq war and edged closer to the Bush administration over technology sales to Iran.
But the two sides did not settle their disagreement over lifting U.N. sanctions against Iraq. Secretary of State Colin Powell said they had not resolved the issue of weapons searches, and Foreign Minister Ivanov stressed Russia’s insistence on a ``legal basis″ for governmental transition in Baghdad.
Determined to set a positive agenda for Bush’s visit, Powell met with Putin at the Kremlin and three times with Ivanov, in addition to having dinner with the foreign minister.
``We could congratulate each other,″ Putin said as the Russian Duma, or lower house of parliament, approved a pact with the United States to cut long-range nuclear warheads by two-thirds over the next 10 years. It was ratified by the U.S. Senate in March.
Putin went on to declare ``we have had a lot of arguments recently concerning the Iraq problem, but we have successfully overcome these differences,″ referring to Russia’s objections to the war with Iraq.
The split did not shake the ``basic foundation of our bilateral relationship,″ he said.
Powell acknowledged disagreements in the recent past, ``especially with respect to Iraq, but now, I think, we have the opportunity to move forward and all of us join together to help the Iraqi people to a better life.″
Still, while the United States wants an unconditional lifting of penalties against Iraq, the Russians want only a suspension as well as a continuation of U.N. weapons searches.
Ivanov said the priority now ``is to create a legal basis for a broad international involvement in postwar rehabilitation″ of Iraq. This appeared to reflect Moscow’s position favoring a prominent role for the United Nations in rebuilding Iraq after the U.S.-led war topple Saddam Hussein’s government.
At an economic conference in Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov said the U.S. resolution that would lift sanctions immediately and phase out the oil-for-food program is ``a very difficult resolution for us.″
Russia’s objective, he said, is to ``bring to a minimum our economic losses and political losses from this resolution.″
Russia ``proceeds from the assumption that all approved contracts must be fulfilled or compensated in an appropriate way,″ Fedotov said. He placed the value of Russian contracts with Iraq at $4 billion.
Putin called his meeting with Powell ``a good opportunity to check our watches″ before he sees Bush in June. He said the Duma’s ratification of the arms accord was an accomplishment for both countries.
But ahead of that meeting, Russian technology sales to Iran pose a potential snarl. The Russians are resisting ending the sales despite urgent appeals by Washington, which argues that the technology significantly aids Iran’s nuclear weapons aspirations. The standoff is preventing resolution of the most contentious dispute in the U.S.-Russian relationship.
Without elaboration, Powell said, ``We have come a little closer as to how we should deal with our concerns.″
The International Atomic Energy Agency has found that Iran has a vibrant weapons program, and Powell had hoped this evidence would help change minds when he met with the Russian leaders.
On the U.N. resolution, Russia wants assurances that Iraq’s alleged banned weapons _ the main reason Bush gave for going to war _ are not being hidden, before Moscow will support removing the sanctions. Also in dispute is the role of U.N. weapons inspectors. The Bush administration sees no further use for them and is resorting to its own specialists to continue its search.
Putin hopes to strike a deal with Bush for cooperation in missile defense systems, having yielded to Bush’s abandonment of the 1972 treaty that banned national missile defenses. Approval of the arms reduction pact may help.