Speaking at a press conference following their meeting, Putin appeared to mock the failure of coalition forces to find the weapons of mass destruction whose existence was used to justify war. ‘Perhaps Saddam is sitting in an underground bunker on a case of weapons of mass destruction preparing to blow them up, we simply don’t know.’ However, he said that there could be no lifting of UN sanctions against Iraq until the UN had verified that the country was clear of such weapons. ‘Sanctions can only be lifted if there is no suspicion [that these weapons exist], which should be subject to a Security Council vote,’ said Putin. US President Bush has called for an immediate lifting of sanctions, and both Russia and France have appeared to take a more conciliatory line in recent days, suggesting that sanctions could be suspended before Iraq was certified weapons-free. Putin also said that Moscow could not accept a unipolar world where one country took all the decisions without reference to the international community.

Blair countered by saying that while the UN should take an important role in post-war Iraq, coalition forces could not be expected to relinquish their control, having risked their soldiers’ lives in toppling Saddam Hussein. International verification would be obtained for any banned weapons material found in Iraq, Blair said, but the US and UK could not be drawn back into the ‘rigmarole’ of UN inspections that preceded war.