President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed Iraq and NATO expansion Friday during talks in St. Petersburg - Mr. Putin's hometown. The Russian leader urged President Bush to handle the Iraqi problem within the context of the U.N. and not act alone.
Presidents Bush and Putin ended their talks with a joint statement in which they said Iraq must comply with U.N. demands to disarm or face major consequences.
They stressed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein must comply fully and unconditionally with the latest Security Council disarmament resolution, and they expressed concern about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Russia backed the U.N. resolution as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council. But Moscow does not support the use of force against Iraq.
At the end of their meeting in an 18th-century castle near the St. Petersburg airport, Mr. Putin said he still hopes diplomatic pressure will produce results. And he urged President Bush to continue to work through the U.N. "We do believe that we have to stay within the framework of the work being carried out within the Security Council of the United Nations," Mr. Putin said.
Their statement on Iraq bears a striking resemblance to language approved by the 19 NATO member countries at the Prague summit. Mr. Bush told reporters that it is important to assure Russia that it has nothing to fear from NATO expansion. "Russia is our friend," said President Bush. "We have a lot of interests together. We must continue our cooperation in the war on terror. And the expansion of NATO should be welcome by the Russian people."
The trip to St. Petersburg was a late addition to the president's itinerary and it came about in a rather unusual way.
On the day before the November 8 vote on the U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq, President Bush called Mr. Putin. During that conversation, the Russian leader said it would be a good idea for Mr. Bush to visit Russia immediately after the alliance met in Prague, a summit that, in effect, expanded NATO to the Russian border.
The three-hour stop was sandwiched between the Prague meeting and visits to two of the seven central and Eastern European countries invited to join NATO Lithuania and Romania. The White House expects large crowds in Vilnius and Bucharest, perhaps the largest of George W. Bush's presidency.