- North Korea
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Question: When discussing Iraq, it is impossible not to mention North Korea and Iran as well. This no longer concerns Iraq, but at one stage George W. Bush called these three countries the "axis of evil". Do you agree with this term, and are Iran and North Korea really part of the "axis of evil"?
Vladimir Putin: I just said that partnership does not imply complete agreement on everything. We, for example, cannot agree with this terminology. We really do have a common understanding of the threats of the 21st century. This unites us. The question is only in the means used to attain the common goal - neutralising these threats.
As for terminology, we are opposed to drawing up any blacklists. We proceed from the fact that the problems need to be dealt with. The problems are not only concentrated in the countries that you have mentioned.
If we are talking about the main threat of the 21st century, I think that it is the problem of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. And here, of course, we should not only mention North Korea, not only the Middle East, we should also mention South Asia. We should always remember that the problem of proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction is closely related to another threat - the threat of terrorism, because terrorists attempt to acquire certain means of mass destruction. This is particularly dangerous.
This is why should see how terrorism is financed, where terrorists hide out, where they find refuge and where they are hiding and where they prepare their crimes; what is the reason for proliferation, where are the loopholes which give the terrorists the hope of acquiring weapons of mass destruction.
And then we will understand that the geography of these problems is much wider. And the most important recent achievement is that we acknowledge these common threats, and have brought our positions closer together; we proceed from the fact that it is only possible to fight these threats together. And in this sense, our positions have a great deal more in common than the things that we disagree on at the moment.
Question: What about the issue of non-proliferation, primarily Iran and its nuclear programme? At the G8 summit, it was stated that no one intends to ignore the development of nuclear weapons in Iran, and everyone supports increasing total control from MAGATE, signing additional protocols etc. Judging from your talks with President Khatami, do you think that Iran will really agree to this?
Vladimir Putin: You know, to determine whether a certain country will follow the obligations it has taken on, one telephone conversation is not enough, and neither are personal meetings.
Iran is our neighbour, our traditional partner. We have a certain system and a level of inter-governmental relations. And we do not intend to lose our position in Iran. We plan to develop relations with this country. But we have several fundamental questions, and our Iranian partners know about these problems: we are opposed to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Iran has signed an agreement on non-proliferation, and taken on certain obligations. And in our last talk, President Khatami confirmed that Iran was prepared to adhere to all documents and put all its nuclear programs under control. And in this case, certain procedures and instruments of control will begin to take effect, which do not depend on our telephone conversations or good personal relations anymore. They depend on experts and specialists from MAGATE. And we will build our relations not just with Iran, but with other countries as well on nuclear problems, based on their openness towards this internationally acknowledged and respected organisations, whose specialists we all trust.
Question: If that really happened, it would be a serious step forward. Because today, as you probably know, John Bolton, the U.S. Under Secretary of State on issues of weapons control, was recently in London. He was asked whether it was still likely there would be a military operation against Iran. He answered that "although we don't have this intention, this possibility should not be ruled out, as nuclear weapons represent a major threat, and when you compare the Iran nuclear program with their aggressive attempts to increase the radius of activity of ballistic rockets, more and more countries - our friends and allies - come into the radius of these rockets." Do you agree that this danger really exists?
Vladimir Putin: I don't see that I should comment on anyone's statements, but we are aware of certain information which we receive, including from MAGATE circles, about Iranian programmes in the nuclear energy sphere. And of course, we have questions about this.
We know that certain Western European companies actively cooperate with Iran in this sphere, and supply equipment which is at least equipment with a dual purpose. So we will protest against using the theme of nuclear weapons proliferation against Iran as an instrument for forcing Russian companies out of the Iranian market. But to fight the problem of proliferation actively, we should be more open with one another, we could act in a more corporate spirit. And the most important thing - I want to repeat this idea once more - is the readiness of Iran's leadership to put all its nuclear programmes under the control of MAGATE.
Question: In the context of the topic of weapons of mass destruction. Recently there has been active discussion around the world as to which of the two countries - Iran or North Korea - represent the greater danger from this standpoint. Given what you said about Iran. Does this mean that North Korea causes the most alarm?
Vladimir Putin: It's hard to say. I don't really even want to answer in the context of the question asked: who poses more danger, who poses less. At any rate, North Korea is in such a state (and we know the context of the historical development of North Korea), that I have no reason to believe that it has any aggressive intentions.
At the same time, the situation is very complex. In our opinion, this problem may be solved by political and diplomatic means. If North Korea has certain concerns connected with its safety, then we must simply bear this in mind, and respond to them.
I am firmly convinced that North Korea needs to be included in the system of international dialogue. This will inevitably lead to a certain change in the state of North Korean society itself, changes in state structures and principles of forming the state, because it will be caused by the necessity of integration into the international community.
We are also prepared to provide our territory for possible meetings and talks, and we are prepared to provide assistance in any form in order to normalise the situation. We discuss this with our Japanese partners, with the leadership of South Korea, with the United States, and are in contact with the North Korean leadership. I should say that this is a very sensitive issue for Russia due to the country's immediate proximity to our borders.
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