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President Bush Discusses Iraq with Russian Officials - 2002-09-20

President Bush continued to make his case for international action against Iraq Friday in meetings with the Russian foreign and defense ministers. Russia supports Iraq's offer to allow weapons inspectors to return.

President Bush wants to keep the world's focus on a U.N. resolution forcing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to give up weapons of mass destruction.

He will need Russia's support for that vote as Moscow could veto the resolution, so Mr. Bush telephoned Russian president Vladimir Putin Friday morning. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says the president asked the Russian leader to back strong action against Iraq. "The president talked about the need to make certain that the United Nations passes resolutions that are firm, that accomplish the goals of disarmament and don't let Iraq avoid responsibility," said Ari Fleischer.

Following his Oval Office meeting Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov says President Putin agrees that Saddam Hussein must comply with all U.N. resolutions.

But the foreign minister says the first step is following through on Iraq's offer to cooperate with weapons inspectors, an offer that he says is due largely to Russian diplomacy.

Mr. Ivanov said Russia and the United States both hope those inspectors will now answer questions about weapons of mass destruction. "Russia and the United States are firmly interested in making the work of international inspectors in Iraq effective and in ensuring that this work gives a clear answer to whether there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or not," he said.

The foreign minister did not say whether Russia feels the need for another U.N. resolution on Iraq before those inspections.

President Bush says Iraq's offer is the "same old song and dance," calling it a "tactical step" to avoid strong action by the U.N. Security Council.

Mr. Fleischer says the president is confident that the United Nations will take strong action against Iraq. "The president just can not imagine the United Nations making the same mistake twice," he said. "The president can not imagine the United Nations again allowing an inspection regime that will not allow the world to know that Saddam Hussein is disarmed. The president thinks that would be a grave mistake. And that is something the president does not think the world would do."

Mr. Bush went to the United Nations last week calling for firm deadlines for the Iraqi leader to give up weapons of mass destruction. He says those deadlines must be a matter of days and weeks, not months and years. There have been no U.N. inspections in Iraq since 1998. The Bush Administration says Iraq has used the four year lull to build more chemical and biological weapons and to further its efforts to develop a nuclear bomb.

If the international community fails to disarm Saddam Hussein, President Bush says the United States is ready to act on its own.