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Putin, European Leaders Stress Unity and Reconciliation at Summit - 2003-05-31

Russian President Vladimir Putin and European leaders are pledging to expand their strategic partnership on the basis of one Europe for all.

Reconciliation was the theme, as President Putin hosted European Union leaders for their first summit since the grouping was challenged by divisions over the U.S.-led war on Iraq.

French President Jacques Chirac said the world is made up of divisions that are accepted and overcome. President Putin echoed that theme, praising what he called U.S. President George W. Bush's willingness to compromise on the latest United Nations resolution on Iraq.

The Russian leader said the compromise would not have been possible were it not for the leadership of British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

President Putin also stressed his view of Russia as a member of Europe by reiterating his call for visa-free travel for Russian citizens to the European Union. And while he received no firm assurances, many leaders made clear in their remarks that it remains a real possibility.

But before that, leaders such as European Commission President Romano Prodi say they would like to see Russia ratify the Kyoto protocol to stave off the threat of global warming. "We underline the necessity and importance of the ratification of the Kyoto protocol. We know that this is not the solution of all problems," he said. "We know it is only a step in the right direction. But we know also, if we don't start, our planet will be devastated."

Mr. Prodi said EU leaders were also ready to cooperate closely with Russia in preparing for the world conference on climate change to be held in Russia this September.

Despite initial opposition from Moscow, the final declaration issued at the summit's end also noted problems in Chechnya, especially concerning a lack of respect for basic human rights. But past EU summit statements on the issue have been far more critical.

EU leaders also agreed to promote economic cooperation, without leaving any one nation behind, in what was seen as a nod to Moscow. Russia has long feared financial fallout when former Soviet satellite states join the European Union next year.