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Russia Ready to Support International Force in Iraq - 2003-08-30

Russian President Vladimir Putin says his country would support an international force in Iraq under U.S. command. But Mr. Putin, speaking in Sardinia where he was the guest of the Italian prime minister, added, however, that such a decision must be taken by the United Nations Security Council.

The Russian president said he did not see anything wrong with the possible participation of international forces in Iraq under U.S. command. Mr. Putin even suggested that Russia would be willing to participate in such a force.

But he made clear that such a force would have to be decided by the United Nations.

Mr. Putin was speaking at a news conference in Sardinia, where he was the guest of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The Russian leader stressed the need for a strong U.N. role in the rebuilding of Iraq. He said the United Nations must, in his words, really direct the process of democratization in Iraqi society and the creation of organs of power.

Mr. Putin also said his country had been in close contact with its partners in the United States and Europe in an effort to obtain a new U.N. resolution.

The United States has been pushing for wider participation to help control the violence in Iraq. But Washington has opposed the idea of a U.N.-sponsored multinational force in Iraq. Recently it appears to have softened its position, but questions remain as to whether it would be willing to share control over post-war Iraq.

Mr. Putin arrived in Sardinia on Friday after being invited to spend three days at the Italian prime minister's luxury villa. The two leaders have been mixing serious discussions with pleasure in what some analysts have dubbed recreation diplomacy.

With Mr. Berlusconi's country currently holding the rotating presidency of the European Union, talks between the two men have centered on world affairs, but also on how to strengthen cooperation and ties between Russia and the EU.

The Italian prime minister, one of Russia's strongest supporters in Europe, has in the past suggested that Russia could become part of what he calls a big Europe. Italy also supports Russia's aspirations to join the World Trade Organization.

The Russian president is expected to visit Italy again in November to hold bilateral talks and to take part in a Russia-EU summit.