Putin, Schroeder back diplomacy
MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, speaking by telephone, have stressed the closeness of their position over the need for a political solution in Iraq, the Kremlin said.
The telephone call added to increasingly vocal opposition in Europe as a whole to a U.S.-led strike on Iraq without U.N. approval.
"They spoke over the telephone, and discussed the situation around Iraq," a Kremlin spokesman told Reuters about the discussion between Putin and Schroeder.
"Both sides stressed the closeness of the positions of Russia and Germany in calling for a political solution of the Iraq problem within the framework of the United Nations."
In Berlin, Schroeder's office said diplomatic efforts should be pursued to fully implement U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, passed last month and providing for arms inspectors to resume searches for dangerous weapons in Iraq.
The resolution gave Iraq a last chance to disarm or face "serious consequences." Iraq denies it has any banned weapons.
The statement from Berlin said both leaders agreed next Monday's report to the Security Council by chief weapons inspector Hans Blix "has great importance and that the inspectors should be given the necessary time for the completion of their task of the disarmament of Iraq."
On Friday the German and French politicians and media across the political spectrum hit back angrily at the U.S. Defense Secretary's criticism that the two countries belong to "old Europe" and are isolated in their opposition to war in Iraq. (Full story)
"Cool down," German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer shot back at comments by Donald Rumsfeld. "We are good friends and allies."
Rumsfeld angered France and Germany by saying they were not representative of a "New Europe" that includes former Soviet bloc countries. "You're thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don't. I think that's old Europe," Rumsfeld told reporters.
"I find this comment on 'old Europe' deeply irritating. Old Europe is resilient and capable of bouncing back," shot back French Finance Minister Francis Mer.
On Wednesday, speaking after a joint Cabinet meeting to mark 40 years of reconciliation between France and Germany, French President Jacques Chirac said France and Germany had "the same point of view" on the Iraqi crisis.
Chirac said any decision on war in the end resides with the U.N. Security Council and that war should be avoided.
"Germany and France have the same judgement on this crisis," Chirac said.
The French president said their mutual stance was based on two ideas.
"The first is that any decision belongs to the Security Council and the Security Council alone, which will address the issue after having examined the latest inspectors' report.
"Secondly, as far as we're concerned, war always means failure," Chirac said. "Everything must be done to avoid war."
Schroeder, standing beside Chirac, said he had nothing to add to the comments.
Germany, which became a temporary member of the Security Council this month, takes over the rotating chair of the council in February. (Full story)
Schroeder has already refused to send German troops to any Gulf campaign and Germany is one of four key countries on the Security Council expressing reluctance to see a war in the region.
France, Russia and China -- all permanent members of the council -- have made it clear they will not be rushed by any pressure from Washington for action against Saddam Hussein, and have backed a call by U.N. inspectors for more time to carry out their searches in Iraq.