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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Toughens Its Stance Over Iraq

UNITED NATIONS -- The United States made rapid headway Friday toward persuading the Security Council to act to confront Iraq, as Russia hardened its position against Baghdad and the European Union supported a new resolution to force the return of international weapons inspectors.

One day after U.S. President George W. Bush demanded before the General Assembly that the United Nations enforce its resolutions on Iraq, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov warned Friday that Baghdad would face "consequences" for failing to cooperate with Security Council resolutions.

The precisely chosen language from Russia, one of the five permanent veto-bearing members of the council, echoed that of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who in a whirlwind day of more than a dozen meetings with foreign leaders -- some individually, others in groups -- pressed the administration's case for a tough new resolution. Powell sought not only a condemnation of Iraq's past violation of UN measures but also the threat of stiff consequences for continued noncompliance.

"The one thing I'm reasonably sure of is whatever resolution we do come up with must have a deadline to it," Powell said as he left the United Nations late Friday afternoon, after meetings with all 15 Security Council nations, most crucially a lunch meeting with the permanent members of the council. "It cannot be a resolution such as the resolutions in the past, where they are issued and there is no subsequent action to comply or be made to comply with the terms of the resolution."

The council nations on Friday generally endorsed Bush's view that Iraq's failure to comply with UN resolutions, particularly those on disarmament, posed an international security threat, Powell and other government leaders said. But the council remained very far from backing a military strike to remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Iraq's envoy to the United Nations, Mohammed Aldouri, repeated again Friday that Baghdad was not opposed "in principle" to the return of UN weapons inspectors, as long as the United Nations moved at the same time to lift economic sanctions it has imposed.

Russia announced its toughened stance early Friday. "Of course, much also depends on Baghdad," Ivanov said, "because resolutions issued by the UN Security Council are binding. In case Iraq refuses to cooperate with the UN Security Council, the Iraqi leadership will bear responsibility for possible consequences."

Up to now Russia had been stressing the need to offer Baghdad more hope that UN sanctions would be lifted, and had not spoken of the possibility of punishing Iraq for failing to comply.

Ivanov said he met with Bush on Thursday, and the president had promised to seek international cooperation. "It was important to make sure the U.S. doesn't resort to any unilateral military action but shows a readiness to interact with the framework of the UN Security Council," he said.

He also made it clear that Russia was still hoping to avoid an attack on Iraq. Bush's position, Ivanov said, "gives us all a change, an opportunity, to continue our efforts for a political settlement."

A senior Bush administration official who has been negotiating with the Russians last week said that in the case of Moscow, the main argument has been an economic one. The message to the Russians, he said, is that "they're a lot more likely to get their debts paid off and have a better commercial relationship with Iraq if it's part of the international community again."

The official said the United States had not made specific offers but did not rule out the possibility of negotiating explicit guarantees for Russian interests, mostly oil-related. He said Russian officials have been presented "with compelling arguments" in recent days and appeared to be willing to consider them.

One administration official said the State Department was hoping UN support could coalesce around a single resolution, to be offered by Britain, that could hold Iraq to account while preserving maximum flexibility for Washington and its allies.

"It doesn't have to be bellicose; it doesn't have to say military action," the official said. "It can say Iraq should finally stop obstructing, or abide by existing resolutions, and that if it doesn't it would be found to be in material breach of UN resolutions, and then a phrase like 'the individual member states are empowered to take further action as necessary to insure Iraq's compliance.'"

That would allow Washington either to stage a military strike in concert with one or more of its allies, or to proceed with a unilateral operation if necessary.

 UN member states held discussions throughout the weekend on Iraq, with many urging Baghdad to admit weapons inspectors.

Bush on Saturday urged the United Nations "to show some backbone" on Iraq and made clear he was prepared to confront Saddam with or without world support, Reuters reported.