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Putin calls on U.S. to set date for troop withdrawal from Iraq

Russia's president has called on the United States to set an exact date for pulling out U.S. troops from Iraq.
MOSCOW, December 19 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's president has called on the United States to set an exact date for pulling out U.S. troops from Iraq.

Speaking to Time magazine December 12, Vladimir Putin said he agrees with U.S. President George Bush when he says it is necessary to help the Iraqi authorities establish an army, security service, police force and transfer decision making on these issues to the Iraqi people.

"Our difference with George [Bush] is that he does not believe it possible to set a deadline to withdraw international troops from Iraqi territory. In my opinion, it would be better to do so, this would make the Iraqi leadership itself more active," he said.

Putin said the decision to set a date for withdrawal is "ultimately a joint decision, which we should make together at United Nations level."

The UN Security Council Tuesday approved a draft resolution extending the mandate of the U.S.-led multinational force (MNF) in Iraq by another year.

In line with the document, 160,000 service personnel will remain in Iraq until the end of 2008 because "the situation in Iraq continues to constitute a threat to international peace and security."

The draft resolution states that troops can only be withdrawn earlier if the Iraqi authorities make a request to the UN.

In his letter requesting an extension, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said the mission "made an important and significant contribution to efforts to establish security and the rule of law" in the country. He also said it had strengthened the capacity of the national army and security forces.

Putin said the current situation in Iraq vindicates Russia's stance against military action in the Gulf state.

"Our position on Iraq is well known. I have been thinking from the start that this was an incorrect decision and I have said it publicly... The developments of recent years show we were right," the Russian leader said.

"If we look at a map of the world [we see that] compared to Russia or the United States, Iraq is hard to find. And it seems easy to 'pressure' the small country. But... this is a small but a very proud nation... The people perceive occupation not as a fight against Saddam Hussein's tyranny but... as a personal insult. And terrorists play on it," Putin said.

At the same time, the Russian president said, we should talk less about what's been done rightly or wrongly. "Today it is better to think of what more we can do, in the future," he said.

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