Calls for Iran to end its nuclear ambitions dominated talks between George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin on Saturday. Both called on Iran to cooperate with international controls, but differences still remained over Iraq.
Putin (left) and Bush are on friendlier terms, but they are still divided on many issues.
Saying that Russia has "no desire and no plans to contribute in any way to the creation of weapons of mass destruction, either in Iran or any other spot or region in the world," Putin called on the Iranians to cooperate closely with the IAEA, which has given the country until the end of October to provide evidence that its nuclear program is based on purely civilian intentions. He said Tehran should be sent a "clear but respectful sign" to cooperate.
Russia has come under fire from Washington in recent weeks because it is helping Iran to construct a nuclear plant that some fear could be used to create weapons grade uranium. The United States has asked Russia not to provide the fuel that would be used to operate the plant when it goes online in 2005. The country has earned millions for the transfer of nuclear technology to the Middle Eastern country.
Washington and Moscow, Bush said, "share a common goal, and that is to make sure Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapon or a nuclear weapons program. We also understand that we need to work together to convince Iran to abandon any ambition she may have" to build a nuclear weapon, he said.
Nuclear concerns about Iran and North Korea played a dominant role during Putin’s two-day visit to Camp David, a presidential retreat north of Washington, D.C., in Maryland. In his talks, Putin warned that heightened tensions with North Korea, which along with Iran has been described by Bush as part of the "Axis of Evil," in order for constructive talks to take place.
"Russia believes that ensuring nuclear nonproliferation should be accompanied by extending to North Korea guarantees in the security sphere," he said. "We intend to continue our joint work with the United States in resolving this issue."
Differences over Iraq
However, Bush and Putin failed to find agreement on the sensitive issue of Iraq, which drove a wedge during the past year between Washington and Moscow policymakers. The extent of the division that remained after Saturday’s meeting shows how far the two leaders have strayed since Bush’s famous meeting with Putin in June 2001. Afterwards, Bush said he had peered into Putin’s soul and liked what he’d seen. But those ties were strained severely this year when Moscow took every possible step to hinder a war aimed at toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime.
But both seemed intent on burying the hatchet at Saturday’s meeting. "Vladimir and I had very frank discussions about Iraq," Bush said. "I understood his position. He understood mine, but because we’ve got a trustworthy relationship, we’re able to move beyond any disagreement over a single issue." Unfortunately, Iraq seemed to be one of the areas where they couldn’t move forward.
Putin said Moscow could only make decisions on how it would aid in providing security and reconstruction aid to Iraq after a new resolution is passed at the United Nations. He said Russia wanted to see the normalization of Iraq "as soon as possible."
"At the same time," he said, "we understand it is a complicated process that should be based on a solid legal and administrative basis and should go ahead stage by stage."
Any Russian participation, Putin said, would be contingent on the scope and nature of a new U.N. resolution.
Though Putin’s remarks appeared to come as a slight setback to Bush, who has so far failed to line up much by means of troop support or financial aid for stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq, the U.S. president offered a positive spin.
"I recognize that some countries are inhibited from participation because of the lack of a U.N. resolution. We are working to get a satisfactory resolution out of the United Nations. We spent some time talking about that today."