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Blair, Putin Moscow Talks to Focus on Iraq - 2002-10-10

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is in Russia for talks with President Vladimir Putin that are expected to focus on Iraq. Before Mr. Blair even stepped off the plane, he went out of his way to reassure Russia that its interests in Iraq would be taken into account.

Speaking with reporters on his plane, Mr. Blair said he is aware of Russia's oil ties with Iraq, and that he will reassure Mr. Putin that he is sensitive to those interests.

But Mr. Blair denied there would be any price tag for Moscow's support on Iraq. The British prime minister was referring to rumors that, in return for Russian support in the United Nations, the United States and Britain might compensate Russia for any money it loses as a result of military action against Iraq.

Mr. Blair also said there is a growing consensus in Europe that the threat posed by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein must be addressed.

Britain and the United States have been pushing for a strongly worded Security Council resolution giving weapons inspectors more access in Iraq, and providing for the possible use of force, if Iraq does not comply.

So far, Russia has opposed any new resolution, saying it might support one in the future under what it calls 'certain circumstances.' France has indicated it might support a tougher resolution now, but not if it includes authorization to use force.

Mr. Blair's trip is part of a series of high-level diplomatic missions over the Iraq issue. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw just returned to London from a trip to the Middle East.

In an interview with the French News Agency (AFP), Mr. Straw said progress is being made on the Iraq issue. He said he will meet with his American counterpart, Colin Powell next week.

President Putin and Prime Minister Blair will hold talks Friday at a country house outside Moscow that was used by Soviet leaders as a hunting lodge. Mr. Blair flies home late Friday.