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Putin, Chinese President Discuss Iraq, N. Korea in Moscow - 2003-05-27

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao are calling for the interests of other nations to be taken into account during Iraq's post-war reconstruction. The two leaders issued the appeal after wide-ranging talks at the Kremlin that also sought to expand long-standing Sino-Russian ties.

Calling the Iraq issue one of the most complicated in the world, Presidents Putin and Hu again called for the United Nations to take the lead role in rebuilding the country.

In a joint statement following several hours of talks at the Kremlin, the two leaders said only U.N. involvement will ensure the lawful rights, interests and concerns of neighboring countries are taken into account.

The Russian and Chinese leaders, both vocal opponents of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, also pledged further aid to the Iraqi people.

Turning their attention farther east, the leaders of the two nations with the closest political ties to North Korea urged that nation not to develop nuclear weapons. They also urged the United States not to use force to resolve its nuclear dispute with North Korea.

The Putin-Hu statement said the non-nuclear status of the Korean peninsula must be maintained and rules banning the spread of weapons of mass destruction should be strictly observed.

President Putin and President Hu said the security of North Korea must be guaranteed and favorable conditions created for its social and economic development.

In addition, the two presidents agreed to increase cooperation aimed at fighting the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome from China into Russia. Russia shares a long border with China, much of which has been closed recently because of the SARS scare. The border closure has hurt the economy of areas that rely on cross-border trade.

President Putin described the talks as positive and constructive, and he said the meeting renewed the Russian and Chinese commitment to expanding their strategic partnership.

Presidents Putin and Hu have met several times. But this is the Chinese leader's first visit to Russia since he became head of state in March. On Thursday, Mr. Hu is scheduled to participate in a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a security forum grouping China, Russia, and four Central Asian republics.

The forum aims to limit Islamic extremism in Central Asia and also to counter rising American influence in the region, a traditional sphere of Russian influence.