Q. Mr. President, did the October hostage crisis in Moscow change the U.S. position on Chechnya?
The President. No, our position on Chechnya is, we hope this can get solved peacefully, that this is an issue within Russia, and that I will continue to work with Vladimir Putin as best as I can to encourage him for there to be a peaceful resolution with the Chechnyan issue, the larger issue.
On the other hand, I recognize that anytime terrorists come to take life, a leader must step forward. And the fact that 800 citizens could have been killed by terrorists put my friend Vladimir Putin in a very difficult situation. And he handled it as best he could. He did what he had to do to save life. And people—I heard somebody the other day blame Russia. No, the people to blame are the terrorists. They need to be held account. I believe you can do both. I believe you can hold terrorists to account, killers to account, and at the same time solve difficult situations in a peaceful way.
Former President Aslan Maskhadov of Chechnya
Q. Mr. President, you say the leader has to come forward. So President Putin said that the leader of the Chechen group that took hostages, he was linked with former President Maskhadov of Chechnya, and that actually Maskhadov was aware of it. And therefore, President Putin said Maskhadov is an international terrorist.
The President. Well, I haven't had a chance to talk to Vladimir Putin about these connections. But I am aware of the fact that there are killers moving around the world interested in holding people hostage, Governments hostage, and that we must work together to bring people to justice. It's one of the reasons why I'm working very closely with the Georgians, and I'm pleased to see Vladimir Putin is working with Mr. Shevardnadze to come up with a common strategy to route out the killers, the Al Qaida-type killers, which may be hiding in the Pankisi Gorge with one thing in mind, to bring instability to Russia. And so we're working together as best as we possibly can to bring people to justice.
Q. But in the West people very often, in the United States in particular, say that one of the partners is Mr. Maskhadov in that political solution. After the October crisis, is that still an issue?
The President. Well, I haven't had a chance to talk to Vladimir and see the facts that he's talking about. He obviously knows—you know, has got some information that we can talk about in St. Petersburg, and I look forward to discussing it with him.
Pankisi Gorge Terrorists/Russia-U.S. Cooperation in the War on Terror
Q. Well, Mr. President, you mentioned Georgia. President Putin immediately after the October crisis said that from now on, Russia is going to hit every terrorist target wherever it is; that means even abroad. Is that all right?
The President. Well, it depends on what you mean by "hit every target"—depending abroad. I mean, you know, I think what he's saying is, we're going to redouble our efforts to work together to bring people to justice. And that's what we're doing in Georgia. I have told Mr. Shevardnadze that if—you know, it's very important for him to be collaborative and to be prepared to bring people to justice if there are killers hiding in the Pankisi Gorge with the intent upon bringing—wreaking havoc in Russia or anywhere else, for that matter. They must be brought to justice. And slowly but surely, we're finding these people around the world.
This is a different kind of war, see; that's what's unique. In the old days, we would fight armies that had tanks and airplanes and ships. These people are the kind of people that hide in caves and send people to their suicidal deaths. And so it requires a different kind of effort. It requires sharing of intelligence, cutting off money, having specially trained troops to go into dark caves or the dark corners of the world and bring these people to justice. You speak in the language of the old war. This is a war that requires a precise understanding of where these people hide, and the willingness to discuss intelligence like we've never discussed before to hunt them down.
And that's what we're doing with Russia. I mean, our intelligence sharing is much better than it ever has been before. And it's going to be good for both our peoples. And I keep reminding the American people that Russia is our friend and we're working in collaboration to hunt down those who would kind of hide in the shadowy corners and bring them to justice.
Russian Interests in Iraq
Q. Mr. President, one question on Iraq——
The President. Sure.
Q. ——which is now very sort of hot issue. If push comes to shove and a military solution is necessary, and if the current regime, Saddam Hussein's regime, is going to be toppled, are Russian economic interests going to be considered?
The President. Well, first, I hope that all the ifs don't happen. I mean, I hope that Mr. Saddam Hussein disarms, like he said he would do. But the problem is, he said he would do it for 11 years, and he hasn't done anything for 11 years. I mean, in the name of peace he should disarm. And so we're working with Russia and other members of the United Nations Security Council to send a clear message to Mr. Saddam Hussein that we expect you to disarm.
If he doesn't disarm, then we'll disarm him in the name of peace. And of course, we'll be interested in all interests. We have no desire to run the show, to run the country. We will work to encourage the development of new leadership, should this happen, that will recognize the rights of all citizens that live in this country, that will keep the territorial integrity of Iraq intact. And we understand Russia has got interests there, as do other countries. And of course, those interests will be honored.
Q. Thank you very much, Mr. President.
The President. I'm glad you're here.