Putin, Blair to cooperate more to fight terror

Putin is the first foreign leader to be invited into the COBRA meeting room.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged Wednesday to increase their joint efforts to combat terrorism during talks held at a high-security underground command center. The two leaders were briefed by top British police and security officials in the underground meeting room of the civil contingencies committee, known as COBRA an acronym for Cabinet Office Briefing Room A. "Russia and the Russian people, like Britain and the British people, know the threat which global terrorism poses. But we also share the same determination not to be defeated by it," Blair told reporters after the meeting. Putin is the first foreign leader to be invited into the COBRA meeting room, which is used by the prime minister to coordinate the response to disasters and emergencies. After the meeting, the two sides issued a joint statement saying they had "resolved to continue to strengthen our partnership, in particular by increasing practical cooperation between our security agencies." Putin said the Russian delegation was pleased with the talks. "We both understand the global challenges and threats of today, including that of terrorism," he said. Human rights groups allege that Putin's government uses the battle against terrorism to cover abuses in the restive republic of Chechnya. Amnesty International last week said Russian forces in Chechnya were responsible for "gross human rights violations," including torture and forced confessions. Blair said Tuesday that Russian and European Union leaders had discussed Chechnya during a one-day summit in London, but gave no specifics. Putin said Wednesday he was grateful for British officials' candor, especially in "sensitive" areas of their discussions. Blair and Putin also discussed trade and energy issues on the second day of the Russian president's trip to London. On Tuesday, Blair headed the EU delegation for the summit. On Wednesday, the two leaders stressed Russia's importance as an energy supplier to Britain. Oil accounts for much of energy-hungry Europe's imports from Russia, a major producer which is eager for Western investment. Blair said Britain valued Russia "as a stable and effective partner for us in the energy policy of the future." On Tuesday, Putin told a news conference that "Russia has constantly been augmenting her supply of oil, helping the world economy, including Europe, by constraining prices." In a ceremony at Blair's office, Putin also bestowed medals on the British team that used a remote-controlled Scorpio underwater robotic vehicle to free a Russian mini-submarine and its seven crew after it became entangled in cables in the Pacific in August.