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U.S./Russia: Bush, Putin Urge Iran, North Korea To Give Up Nuclear Ambitions

Washington, 29 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin declared themselves strong allies in the war on terrorism on Saturday (27 September) and warned Iran and North Korea to abandon any ambitions to obtain nuclear weapons.

At a news conference after two days of talks at the U.S. presidential retreat of Camp David near Washington, Bush and Putin appeared to show common ground on Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and the war on terrorism.

Standing next to one another, they said they are united in their demand that Iran give up any effort to acquire nuclear weapons, which Tehran denies doing. Putin said, "It is our conviction that we shall now give a clear but respectful signal to Iran about the necessity to continue and expand its cooperation with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency]."

But Putin appeared to give no ground on Bush's demand that he stop Russian assistance to Tehran's nuclear program. Russia has an $800 million contract to help Iran build what has been described as a civilian nuclear power plant. Putin declared Russia has no desire to help Iran build nuclear weapons.

The IAEA, at Washington's urging, has raised concerns about Iran's nuclear aims and has given Tehran until the end of October to prove it has no secret weapons program. If Iran fails to do so, the issue could go to the United Nations Security Council.

On another major proliferation concern, Bush and Putin also agreed that North Korea should immediately abandon its nuclear weapons program. Bush said, "We strongly urge North Korea to completely, verifiably, and irreversibly end its nuclear programs."

But Putin suggested the United States should be willing to give North Korea a security guarantee as a condition for giving up its nuclear program, something Bush has so far refused to do.

On Iraq, however, the Russian leader appeared to extend a hand of support to Washington at a time when few traditional allies of America have been willing to help assist with the country's reconstruction. Putin signaled that Russia may agree to Washington's insistence that political authority be slowly returned to the Iraqi people, rather than swiftly restoring sovereignty, as France has called for.

Putin said he understands the political transition process is complicated and will take time. "I would like to emphasize separately the situation around Iraq. Our countries have, as the world community has, a common goal -- the quickest normalization of the situation [in Iraq]. We want to see Iraq as a free, united, and democratic state. We propose that in resolving the complicated problems confronting the people of Iraq, the special envoy of the secretary-general of the United Nations and the Governing Council of Iraq must play an important role," he said.

But Putin made no commitment of money or peacekeeping troops for Iraq's reconstruction, saying Russia's contribution will depend on the wording of a UN resolution currently being negotiated. Bush is seeking a UN resolution that would create a multinational force and outline a path toward democracy. U.S. officials estimate it will take at least six months to write a constitution, followed by another six more months to hold general elections for a new government.

If Putin appeared willing to help out in Iraq, Bush lent his own support to Putin, saying Washington backs Russia's struggle against Islamic terrorism in Chechnya. But he cautioned that human rights must be respected there, too. "Russia and the United States are allies in the war on terror," he said. "Both of our nations have suffered at the hands of terrorists, and both of our governments are taking actions to stop them. No cause justifies terror. Terrorists must be opposed wherever they spread chaos and destruction, including Chechnya. A lasting solution to that conflict will require an end to terror, respect for human rights and a political settlement that leads to free and fair elections."

Putin added that, on the war on terrorism, Russia and the United states "are not just partners, we are allies."

Bush remarks were in line with what analysts say has been a softening of U.S. criticism of Russia's conflict in Chechnya since Washington and Moscow joined forces in the war on terrorism after the attacks on America in September 2001.