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Putin Aims to Mend Fences on State Visit

Russian leader gets royal welcome in London. He seeks to end rift with Britain over war in Iraq.

June 25, 2003|From Associated Press

LONDON — In the first state visit to Britain by a Russian leader since the 19th century, Vladimir V. Putin came to London on Tuesday as the guest of Queen Elizabeth II and was greeted with a red carpet at the airport, an artillery salute and a state banquet at Buckingham Palace.

The president's visit is an effort to repair a rift over the U.S.-led war on Iraq -- which Britain supported and Russia opposed -- and reflects Russia's growing economic importance to Britain.

Both the queen and Putin referred in their speeches at the banquet to the killing of six British troops in Iraq on Tuesday as evidence that their countries need to work together.

"It is no secret that there were significant differences between our two countries earlier this year on how best to handle Iraq," the queen said in her speech. "The tragic loss of British lives today reminds us all of the difficulties to be faced. But as we look ahead, we know that our long-term partnership is of profound importance to both of us."

Putin began his speech in a few sentences of English to return the sentiment.

"We would like to express to her majesty and the people of the United Kingdom our sincere condolences for the loss of the British soldiers in Iraq," Putin said. "It's clear for everyone that in spite of the differences that existed before today, we need to act jointly."

Today, Putin is scheduled to travel to Scotland, returning to speak in London in the evening.

On Thursday, Putin and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are expected to hold talks on Iraq after a lunch involving both their wives at 10 Downing St.

Prince Charles met Putin and his wife, Lyudmila, at Heathrow airport. Later, scarlet-garbed guards and mounted cavalry troops stood by as the queen, her husband and Blair greeted Putin's motorcade.

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