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Blair to Pressure Russian President Putin on Iraq

British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrives in Russia Thursday for talks expected to focus on Iraq. He will have his work cut out for him trying to convince Russian officials to take a tougher position.

Russian officials have made clear that they do not think any new Security Council resolution is needed on Iraq, particularly one authorizing the use of force.

Russian deputy foreign minister, Yuri Fedotov, says Russia would accept a new resolution only under certain circumstances. He says most importantly, any new Security Council resolution should not contain a provision providing for the use of force if Iraq does not comply.

Russian officials have said repeatedly they favor the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq as soon as possible, without a new resolution. Mr. Fedotov added that Russia is opposed to a military resolution to the conflict, saying that would destabilize the region.

Britain and the United States have been pushing for a strongly worded U.N. resolution dealing with Iraq that gives weapons inspectors more access, and provides for the possible use of force.

Many here in Russia do not believe there is substantial evidence to prove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is a threat. They want to see more evidence of the threat Iraq allegedly poses to the United States and other countries.

The British prime minister will also have to overcome a general feeling of distrust by many in the Russian political elite about U.S. intentions regarding Iraq.

Leonid Ivashov, a retired Russian army general who is now an analyst with the Moscow-based Academy of Political Research, is among many Russians who believe the conflict in Iraq has more to do with oil than weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Ivashov says the United States is trying to get control of Iraq's large oil supplies.

Oil is also part of Russia's policy toward Iraq. Russia has significant oil interests there, and also wants to ensure that Iraq has the resources to repay $7 billion in Soviet-era debt.

During his 24-hour visit, Prime Minister Blair will meet with President Vladimir Putin and several other senior officials.