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Russia Aware of Dangers of WMD Proliferation, says Putin - 2003-06-01

President Vladimir Putin said Russia will work with all nations, including the United States, to halt the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Russian President Putin said Russia does not need convincing about the dangers of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Putin said the potential flow of such weapons should be checked and prevented throughout the world. And in this, he said, Russia's view is closer to America's than it might seem.

He also took special care to note that Russia's view on the matter also applies to Iran.

The Russian president began taking a harder line toward Iran's nuclear program in the weeks leading up to his summit with U.S. President George W. Bush.

The United States has long worried that Russia's cooperation with Tehran could be used to help Iran develop nuclear weapons - a claim Russia denies. Iran, too, has said the cooperation is directed at peaceful purposes only.

At the same time, President Putin said in a joint news conference with President Bush, that Russia is against the pretext of using concern about nuclear weapons programs as a lever in exerting, what he described as, unfair business competition against Russia.

In a follow-up news conference, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was asked to elaborate on what President Putin meant by that remark. He said there have been cases in the past where Russian companies operating in Iran were falsely accused of wrong-doing.

Mr. Ivanov characterized the claims as groundless, as spoken through a translator. "In our opinion it was done not because those companies violated something, but just to create artificial difficulties and complications and to obtain in this way some advantages in the field of competition among various companies. And we are against such unfair competition," he said.

Mr. Ivanov added that Russia's cooperation with Iran is subject to International Atomic Energy Agency controls, such as those that require Russia to return all spent nuclear fuel from Iran to Russia. He noted that Russia's policy in that regard had not and would not change.

Separately, Foreign Minister Ivanov said Russia also agrees with the United States that North Korea must strictly comply with all its nuclear non-proliferation obligations. He said Russia remains ready to assist in securing communist North Korea's cooperation if necessary.