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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 April, 2003, 21:01 GMT 22:01 UK
Blair-Putin tensions on sanctions
Tony Blair and Vladimir Putin
The role of the UN should be 'strengthened', says Putin

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and Russian President Vladimir Putin remain split on lifting UN sanctions against Iraq following a two hour meeting in Moscow.

Mr Putin made clear he was not ready to support the prime minister's call for an end to sanctions after talks at his private residence at Novo-Ogarevo, 40km west of Moscow.

He argued that the United Nations should play a central role in post-war Iraq and also appeared to question whether Saddam Hussein really did have weapons of mass destruction.

The pair were hosting a news conference during Mr Blair's five hour trip to Moscow on Tuesday for a meeting which sought to heal rifts over the Iraq war.

The role of the UN should be not only restored but strengthened
Vladimir Putin

The prime minister announced that the two leaders would hold their next set of talks in St Petersburg during the city's 300th anniversary celebrations in late May.

Standing alongside Mr Putin, who opposed the Iraq conflict, Mr Blair warned that the world faced a "real danger" if the international community did not put behind it divisions created by the Iraqi conflict.

Mr Blair said he believed a proper strategic partnership between Europe and the US "can be made to work but it requires goodwill".

"It requires a real vision and acceptance that this strategic partnership is the only alternative to a world in which we break up into different poles of power, acting as rivals to one another, with every single dispute in the world being played off against these different poles of power," he said.

"That is a real danger for our world."

Mr Blair stressed that control of Iraq could not simply be handed over to the UN while coalition forces were on the ground stabilising the situation.

But Mr Putin told reporters that now the war is over "the role of the UN should be not only restored but strengthened".

He argued that UN sanctions against Iraq should not be lifted until it was proved that the country did not possess weapons of mass destruction.

'Power vacuum'

"Russia has always supported easing and even lifting the sanctions, but our partners in the UN Security Council believe that as long as the issue of weapons of mass destruction has not been clarified, the sanctions should be maintained, and we agree with this position," said Mr Putin.

Calling for the UN weapons inspectors to return to Iraq, Mr Putin appeared sceptical that the weapons could be found.

He said: "We do not know whether perhaps Saddam is still hiding somewhere underground in a bunker sitting on cases containing weapons of mass destruction, and is preparing for blowing the whole thing up and bringing down with him the lives of hundreds of thousands of people."

He stressed that the oil-for-food programme "must be supervised by the UN", given the "power vacuum in Iraq".

Partnership

Tuesday's summit was part of efforts to heal diplomatic wounds but most commentators concluded it had not worked.

BBC political editor Andrew Marr said Mr Blair was finding it difficult to put "Humpty Dumpty" back together again after the Iraq divisions.

Mr Blair told reporters on his flight to Moscow: "We have always had very good relations with Russia, but there's no point in ignoring the fact that the last few months have been a very difficult situation diplomatically.

"What we have to explore now is whether there is a basis for a proper strategic partnership, which we obviously want to see.

Last week France said it would agree to suspending UN sanctions towards Iraq - something which had been tipped as a potential sticking point in the Security Council.

Mr Blair said: "Obviously with Saddam gone, there is no reason why we should not be trying to lift them as soon as possible."

He stressed the kind of arguments seen before the Iraq war at the UN should not be repeated.

"Getting agreement at the UN is important, but we are not going back into the rigmarole we had last time over the second resolution," he said.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"Mr Putin appeared to mock those famous weapons of mass destruction"



SEE ALSO:
Blair and Putin 'poles apart'
29 Apr 03  |  Europe
Anti-war Europeans open summit
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US hosts new Iraq meeting
28 Apr 03  |  Middle East
Ministers 'nearly quit' over Iraq
26 Apr 03  |  Politics
Blair meets Jordan's Abdullah
24 Apr 03  |  Politics
No kiss and make-up in Moscow
29 Apr 03  |  Politics


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