British Prime Minister Tony Blair traveled to Russia Tuesday, in the hopes of persuading President Vladimir Putin to support a quick end to United Nations sanctions on Iraq. But after two hours of talks outside Moscow, the Russian president appeared unmoved.
At a joint news conference, President Putin stood firm in his opposition to the lifting of the sanctions imposed on Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
Taking a particularly tough tone, President Putin said that with the war essentially over, it is important to establish once and for all whether there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Mr. Putin says the question needs to be answered, before the sanctions can be lifted.
In order to answer the question, President Putin again urged the quickest possible return of U.N. weapons inspectors to Iraq.
His statement provoked a strong response from Prime Minister Blair, who earlier said he was going to Russia in the hopes of persuading Mr. Putin to support a quick end to the sanctions. Worried about the possibility of a Cold War-style division over Iraq between Europe and the United States, Mr. Blair called for compromise on both sides. He said the key question now is whether there is a way forward beyond the diplomatic stand-off of the past few months.
Britain and the United States want the sanctions lifted completely, and soon, without conditions.
The Russian and British leaders came closer in their views on the need for a key role for the United Nations in Iraq's post-war reconstruction process.
U.S. officials have said only that the United Nations can play a role in the rebuilding, but stress that coalition partners will take the lead.
President Putin and Prime Minister Blair also discussed cooperation between Russia and the European Union and Mr. Putin's visit to London in June. But before then, the two leaders will meet at the end of May in St. Petersburg, where they and hundreds of other dignitaries will gather to celebrate the city's 300th anniversary.