British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, currently in Moscow, maintains he has not been in Russia since October 2001 not because of cooling in Russian-British relations, but due to his very tight schedule. He said this in an interview with a popular Russian business daily, Kommersant.
Unfortunately, the schedule does not give time for official visits, he told the newspaper. But Mr. Straw regularly meets his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. Last time they met last week in Istanbul. The practice was similar with former foreign minister Igor Ivanov, who now holds another post and whom Straw hopes to see in Moscow.
The Foreign Secretary recalled that last month Prime Minister Tony Blair had met President Vladimir Putin twice.
The United Kingdom and Russia have many common interests for discussion and cooperation, and economy is not the least of them, he pointed out. Today Great Britain is Russia's largest investor. In the spheres where disagreements arouse discussion is also necessary.
At present cooperation between Russia and the West is not only possible, but even necessary, Mr. Straw emphasized. As to Putin's Russia, its great achievements, for example, economic stabilization, are very impressive. After his reelection Vladimir Putin said his priorities were strengthening of democracy, support of civil society and ensuring of mass media freedom. "We welcome these priorities". If these changes take place, it will mean a deeper and closer cooperation with the West, Jack Straw believes.
When asked whether Britain shared the US state concerning the so-called rogue states that spread terrorism, he said that Britain did believe that. Yet terrorism is a global threat and everyone should take efforts to fight it.
Great Britain remains committed to all international agreements on eradication of terrorism and its support in any form. There is no simple model to fight terrorism, but "we will continue working in this direction".
A Kommersant correspondent asked the secretary, whether Britain shares the US concern about Russia's nuclear cooperation with Iran. He answered, "We believe that Russia shares our determination to ensure that the Iranian nuclear program serves exclusively peaceful purposes".
Russia, as well as Britain, is member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which tries to contribute to non-proliferation of nuclear weapons by complying with the principles of exporting nuclear and related materials.
Russia's cooperation with Iran is developing in this context. Russia has proved very responsible, insisting on Iran signing a protocol on return of nuclear waste from the Bushehr nuclear power plant before concluding a fuel supply agreement. "I fully support this position," Mr. Straw emphasized.
When asked why Britain had refused to extradite to Russia Chechen separatists' emissary Akhmed Zakayev and traditionally supported draft resolutions of the UN Human Rights Commission denouncing Russia's action in Chechnya, the Foreign Secretary said he first of all wanted to emphasize that the decision on Zakayev had been taken by a court after comprehensive consideration of the materials provided by Russian prosecutors. We have always supported Russia's fight against terrorism and recognized the seriousness of security problems it faces in Chechnya, he said. We have denounced the attack on Ingushetia and assassination of Chechen president Akhmad Kadyrov.
The hard lesson we learned in North Ireland is that a stable long-term agreement can be reached only by real political settlement of a conflict and relentless fight against human rights violations.
The forthcoming presidential elections in Chechnya give an opportunity for such a political process and may help stabilize the situation in the republic, Jack Straw pointed out.