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Good evening ladies and gentlemen. We would like to briefly inform you on the results of our meeting. First of all I would like to thank very much the Prime Minister for his quick reaction and agreement to come to Moscow after the well known events of 11 September. We consider our continued contacts today as a follow-on to our contacts with the United States, with the European Community, the European Union, and Central Asian countries. All those who have decided that they will be on the side of fighting terrorism all over the world. And the fact that we have been able so expeditiously to communicate and meet once again proves a higher level of relations between the UK and Russia.
We have followed very carefully the recent developments in the United Kingdom, the positions that have been taken by the Prime Minister, and we believe that we can provide wholehearted support to those positions. Certainly we have touched on some of the issues of a bilateral nature. We will continue those discussions later during the night and those relate both to the economy and other bilateral issues. But again, I would like to repeat that the tone of our discussion and the relations that we have established have been such as to make me sure that the level of our relations will make it possible for us to address the most acute issues of today and first of all the problem of combating terrorism.
First of all can I express my thanks to President Putin for inviting me here and for seeing me so swiftly after the telephone conversation we had a few days ago. We have now met many times together, and even before 11 September there was a clear strengthening of relations between our two countries and also I believe between Russia and Europe and Russia and the United States of America.
The events of 11 September have given us a renewed sense of urgency. I would like to pay tribute to the strength and leadership of President Putin at this time and I believe that in part that is due to the experience of people here in Russia of the dangers of terrorism, not least the appalling terrorist act of 1999 in which several hundred people lost their lives, many here in Moscow. And the fact that Russia has shown its solidarity with the victims of 11 September is a sort of tremendous support, and indeed comfort at this time. But it is very much part of a changing set of relationships that is putting relations between Russia and Europe, Russia and the United States, Russia and Britain on a new footing for a new age. Today certainly we meet as two countries, not talking to each other out of necessity but working through problems in the spirit of friends and true partners. And for that I thank President Putin again for his leadership and the Russian people.
President Putin, at one of your previous meetings with Mr Blair in St Petersburg you spoke at great length about the danger of Islamist terrorism. I wonder if, with dreadful hindsight you think that perhaps the West were rather negligent in taking your warning seriously and whether in particular you have any independent contribution to make to the evidence still disputed by many that Osama bin Laden was actually responsible for the attacks on America.
These are the sorts of things that we discussed with the Prime Minister during our first meeting in St Petersburg. I dont believe that western leaders paid no heed or were indifferent to what I was saying. Well indeed it is probably nice to believe sometimes that a grief that has visited your neighbour may bypass you. And one wouldnt want to think that this threat is of a global nature. And you are right, it is exactly these words that I told to America. I believe that the United Kingdom cannot be blamed or rebuked of such an approach. I am not saying this because Prime Minister Blair is my personal guest today. I am saying this because he was one of the leaders with Mr Schroeder who were very instrumental in making the adages of the western world thought Russia more benign. And it is because of the efforts of these two leaders, and not theirs alone, that the West has received in Russia a reliable partner that it can deal with, co-operate in countering the common threat. We know that there have been some temporary ups and downs in the Western economy, but I believe that given our albeit limited resources we can, and should, co-operate bilaterally with the Western countries and all those who want to co-operate with us.
As to the Russian approach and contribution to the common efforts of countries to fight terrorism, this was made public by me a few days ago in terms of our approach and our contribution. And this may lead to neutralise the most odious international terrorists. We dont rule that out. As I said we can extend our co-operation in areas in excess and above those that I mentioned in my public statement, but this will certainly be dependent on the attitudes and position of other countries.
Question (in Russian)
Now it is clear that the concerns expressed today and the actions that may be taken might result perhaps in further suffering of the people in Afghanistan. How can you respond to that?
First of all, I think it is important to recognise that we have to take action against those responsible for these terrorist atrocities, but in doing so we do not seek in any way to act against the Afghan people. On the contrary, it is important that as well as any action that is taken in respect of bin Laden or the Taliban regime that shelter him, we put together a humanitarian coalition also, to give help on the humanitarian side so that the suffering of the people is minimised and so that those that are refugees are taken care of and given shelter.
First of all to the question whether the anti-terrorist coalition actions are going to be effective. We will be able to see that when such actions become a reality. At that time we will be able to make a judgement on whether they are effective or not. But there is one thing that I have no doubt about, they can be effective indeed. The foremost condition for that is the uniting of efforts of many countries in this endeavour and their willingness to work and combat this problem for a long time. As to the possible suffering of people that may occur as a result of those operations, this is something that we should certainly reckon with. But in saying so, I would like to draw your attention to a number of circumstances.
First, the Afghan people is already suffering under the yoke of the terrorist regime that has been imposed on it over the course of recent years. It is already suffering. Our principal goal is to rid the Afghan people of this suffering. It is clear that the terrorists have made the Afghanis hostages of their objectives. And those who will be engaged in the proposed actions will have to do their utmost, and I am sure they will do their utmost, in order to prevent sufferings and killings of innocent civilians. But if there are victims as a result of these operations, the blame for this should be squarely placed on the terrorists and not on the people who are fighting terrorism because it is the terrorists who have made the population a hostage of their objectives. And I certainly agree with the Prime Minister that we have to do everything that we can in order to provide assistance and do the rehabilitation effort vis-à-vis the Afghan people in terms of their economy, socially and in all that we can in order to bring things to normal. In other words, to provide humanitarian assistance in the broadest sense of the word.
Question (Andrew Sparrow, Daily Telegraph)
I would like to ask the President please what is the latest information he has about the loss of the Siberian airliner and whether he is satisfied that there was no terrorist involvement in that.
Well the final judgement and conclusion about the reasons and causes of the tragedy can only be made by experts and specialists after very careful study and analysis. I should tell you that our people here in this country have been very expeditious in dealing with this tragedy. We already have planes and ships on the site of the tragedy and they are doing everything they can in order to analyse the causes of this unfortunate event. Before such a thorough examination has been done, it would be premature to make any judgement on this score. As you know, I have issued a special decision establishing a special commission to investigate the causes of this accident and the Chairman of this commission is our Secretary of the Security Council, Mr Rushalov (phon.) and people from other agencies. And it will be up to them to carefully examine the facts and come up with their conclusion.
Can I just add one word on that which is simply to express my profound sympathy to the families of the victims of the air tragedy earlier today, and to give through President Putin my sympathy to the Russian people that were victims, and obviously to the Government and nation of Israel as well for the lives of those they lost in the tragedy earlier today.
Question (In Russian)
I have a question both for Prime Minister Blair and President Putin. First of all, how do you really assess the level of relations between Great Britain the United Kingdom and Russia at this time. How have the recent developments impacted on them? And the last question is, have you finished your work for tonight, or are you going to continue?
Well, I spoke about that before. I can only say that the history of our relations is quite long and certainly, as I said before, Prime Minister Blair and Chancellor Schroeder were one of the foremost proponents and initiators of expanding and bettering our relations, as a result of which the West has a more benign, perhaps, look at our country. And we certainly understand that these are only first steps. There is a lot to be done. There is no limit. That is the first question. And I can answer the second too. As to whether or not we have completed our work for today, I can tell you that no, we have not finished our agenda for today, and with the acceptance of the distinguished Prime Minister, we have decided that we should pursue this at my home over dinner.
First of all, can I say to you that I have now had, I think, eight different meetings with President Putin. We spoke together many, many times and I think that is a very good indication of the strengthening relationship, not just between Russia and Britain, but a strong personal relationship too, which I greatly value and I believe that something is happening in our world today that is immensely important. The Cold War is over. Many of the old difficulties of the past can be set aside. We have a real opportunity to forge new relationships and I think it is immensely important that we do so because we face common interests, and common problems today. And when we are battling something like the issue of international terrorism, but also on many other issues too, we need Russia there as a partner and a friend. And that is the relationship today, and I welcome that and from the very first meeting I had with President Putin in St Petersburg I recognised someone who had the vision and the imagination to set the past aside and build new relationships for the future and I think that is very important. And the fact that we have Russia today standing alongside the other countries of the world, including the United States of America, including all the countries of Europe, including Britain and giving its strong support to action against acts of terrorism that took place in the United States of America, that is living proof, visible proof, of the changed world in which we live. And I believe that we are only at the start of what we can gain from this new world. We have now got to take it further, deepen it further at every single level.
Question (in Russian)
One more question again about this aircraft. There have been some reports that this aircraft was shot down by a Ukrainian missile. Is there any proof to that? What can you tell us about this?
According to the information received from our Ukrainian colleagues, it is true that in the immediate vicinity of the area where the crash took place, some exercises were being conducted. But I can tell you that all the relevant services were immediately informed of that. And second that the weapons that were used in those exercises have such tactical characteristics that make it impossible for them to reach the air corridors through which this particular aeroplane was moving and therefore they were out of reach. We did not take part in those defence exercises, but our observers were there, and according to the information received from our Ukrainian partners things are as they are and we have already established military to military contacts between our Defence Ministers so I would ask you at this point not to add any sensationalism to this information but wait until we get the final results of the examination.