Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov says U.N. arms inspectors need to return to Iraq quickly to discover if the government has resumed production of weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Ivanov, however, did not offer support for additional U.N. resolutions on Iraq or unilateral military action by the United States to topple Saddam Hussein.
Mr. Ivanov told reporters while on a visit to Washington, Russia and the United States agree that U.N. weapons inspectors must have unrestricted access to Iraqi sites suspected of being factories for producing weapons of mass destruction.
The Russian foreign minister said the inspections need to begin quickly. "Now international inspectors can start their important work and give us an objective and comprehensive answer to the question that is of concern to everyone. Is there, are there weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or programs to create weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or not," Mr. Ivanov said.
The Bush administration is drawing up a resolution for the U.N. Security Council that would set specific benchmarks and a short timeline for judging whether Iraq is cooperating in the effort to eliminate chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
U.S. officials say previously passed resolutions allow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to drag out the inspection process for months or even years.
Russia could use its veto power on the Security Council to block a new resolution.
Foreign Minister Ivanov did not offer support for such a resolution, but said Russia understands U.S. concerns.
"We understand the concern of the U.S. side and the interest of the U.S. side in insuring that the inspectors work effectively in Iraq and that they don't confront any impediments," Mr. Ivanov said.
On Friday the White House released the president's National Security Strategy saying U.S. forces may take unilateral action by making pre-emptive strikes against terrorists or nations that could be a threat to America by producing weapons of mass destruction.
Mr. Ivanov indicated Russia does not support this decision. He said, "It is a firm position of Russia that any use of force against any country shall be authorized by the United Nations Security Council. This is imbedded in the charter of the United Nations and all nations of the world should follow its provisions."
Mr. Ivanov said before inspections were stopped in 1998, inspectors made thousands of visits to sites throughout Iraq and made progress identifying Iraqi efforts to build weapons that could threaten other nations.
U.S. officials contend Saddam Hussein has had four years to figure out how to hide such weapons after the inspectors left Iraq.