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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Will Hear Bush Out Over Iraq

WASHINGTON -- Firmly opposed to a military strike against Iraq, the leaders of Russia, France and China agreed Friday to U.S. President George W. Bush's personal appeal to hear the U.S. case against President Saddam Hussein but gave no sign they would bend to it.

"We need to work together to make the world more peaceful," Bush argued in back-to-back phone calls that lasted but 30 minutes altogether and marked the start of an uphill campaign to soften overseas objections to his Iraq policy.

The president's only specific request of his three counterparts was that they receive the top-level officials he will dispatch to Paris, Moscow and Beijing next week to present the U.S. case against Saddam, an administration official said.

All three agreed, the White House said.

But the word from overseas was that President Vladimir Putin and French President Jacques Chirac stood firm in their opposition to any unilateral U.S. action against Iraq. Chinese officials said almost nothing about President Jiang Zemin's call from Bush.

Each could use his seat on the UN Security Council to veto resolutions aimed at Saddam.

Bush says he has not decided how to get rid of Saddam -- whether by military attack or some other means -- but is convinced that his ouster is the only way to quash Iraq's aspirations for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. The Bush team is at work on a proposed resolution setting a deadline for Iraq to admit weapons inspectors or risk punitive action.

But Bush on Friday did not broach any discussion of weapons inspections, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said.

"The president heard messages of openness, a willingness to listen," said Fleischer, briefing reporters on the generalities of Bush's conversations. "But it is fair to say that each of these three leaders has various thoughts of their own."

Putin, whom Bush reached on vacation in Sochi, stuck to the Russian position that there is real potential for a political solution to the Iraq threat.

Putin "expressed serious doubts regarding the grounds for the use of force in relation to Iraq, in terms of both international law and global politics," the Kremlin said in a statement.

Putin underscored the need to "coordinate political and diplomatic efforts with the aim of implementing existing UN Security Council resolutions on Iraq," the statement said, referring to resolutions under which UN sanctions against Iraq could be lifted if inspectors determine it is not developing weapons of mass destruction.

It said that both Putin and Bush said it is necessary to work out a common position that would help "strengthen international security and consolidate the anti-terrorist coalition."

Putin also spoke with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and expressed doubts that military action against Iraq would comply with international law.

Other top Russian diplomats also reiterated Moscow's conviction that the crisis can be solved by political means and warned the United States against taking unilateral action.

"If, under the pretext of combating terrorism, attempts are made to interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign states, it will not only aggravate the situation in the regions where such attempts are made but can also inflict irreparable damage on unity within the framework of the anti-terrorism coalition," Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told a news conference in the city of Vladimir on Sunday, Interfax reported.

"Action against terrorism is very difficult and its success will depend on the degree of coordination and solidarity on the part of the international community," he said.

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Saturday that a quick return of the UN weapons inspectors could ease the crisis around Iraq. "First of all, international inspectors must be sent to Baghdad quickly and without any preconditions," Ivanov said at a briefing. "On the spot, they will be able to give a clear answer whether Iraq produces any weapons of mass destruction."

Chirac on Friday reiterated to Bush that any military action against Baghdad must be decided at the United Nations.

A two-sentence report by China's official Xinhua News Agency said only that Jiang and Bush discussed "international and regional affairs" and U.S.-Chinese relations.

At Camp David on Saturday, Bush met with Blair to forge a strategy for persuading the world to join them in forcing Saddam to disarm or face a military strike. After the meeting, Blair said the United States and Britain would rally "the broadest possible international support" for action. He and Bush did not release any specifics of the case they will make against Iraq in coming weeks.