ST PETERSBURG, Russia # Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the U.S.-led coalition of having failed to achieve its war aim, to disarm Iraq.
As television pictures showed the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s vestiges of power, Putin was quoted by Reuters as saying: “The goal of war # to disarm Iraq # has not been achieved. … We must never mix notions. No one liked the Iraqi regime apart from Saddam Hussein, but this is not the point.”
But Putin, who is playing host to France’s President Jacques Chirac and Germany’s Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, said he welcomed the fall of Saddam’s dictatorship. Iraq has dominated the two-days of talks in St Petersburg.
Putin, speaking for the first time since the apparent collapse of Saddam’s regime, said the U.N. should play a pivotal role in the reconstruction of Iraq, and repeated his call for future disputes to be settled by international law rather than military means.
“The task of restoring the political, economic and social system of Iraq is enormous,” Chirac said according to The Associated Press news agency. “Only the United Nations has the legitimacy to do that.
The Russian president said the model for Iraq’s reconstruction should be in line with the rebuilding of Afghanistan and reiterated his view that the United Nations should be central to this process.
Earlier in the week, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said the United Nations “can’t be in charge,” when he was addressing a U.S. Senate panel.
CNN’s Jill Dougherty in Moscow said Putin was playing a “balancing act” with the U.S..
“He does not want to make relations any worse than they already are,” she said.
“We heard from Putin last night (Friday). He said it is good that a tyrannical regime has gone, but that it cannot be a template for around the world.”
Putin said he was open to discussing a proposal by Wolfowitz which would see Moscow writing off the estimated $8 billion owed to it by Iraq, Reuters reported.
Wolfowitz said Thursday that Russia, France and Germany could contribute to rebuilding Iraq by agreeing Baghdad did not have to repay the tens of billions of dollars in loans taken out by Saddam.
“On the whole the proposal is understandable and legitimate,” Putin was quoted as saying.
“In any event, Russia has no objection to such a proposal.”
France and Germany were less keen on the idea, simply saying it was too early to discuss debt.
Russia is believed to be owed up to $12 billion, with France owed about $8 billion and Germany more than $4 billion.
Putin is also likely to face objections to agreeing to the proposal from the Russian parliament and his finance minister.