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IAEA Director, Russian FM Ivanov Meet - 2003-01-15

The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, is urging Iraq to provide more active cooperation to U.N. weapons inspectors.

Mr. ElBaradei emerged from an hour of talks in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov saying he believes Russia could play a vital role in resolving the crisis over Iraq's weapons program.

He said he hopes Moscow will use its influence with Iraq to make the case for what Mr. ElBaradei called more "active cooperation" with the U.N. weapons inspectors. Foreign Minister Ivanov said it is a role Russia is ready to play.

Mr. Ivanov said Russia is ready to help the inspectors as much as possible, pushing both sides to higher levels of constructive cooperation.

Mr. ElBaradei and Mr. Ivanov also told reporters they agree force should be used against Iraq only as a last resort.

Mr. ElBaradei acknowleged growing international impatience over Iraq. He added he would need further cooperation and evidence from Baghdad in order to come to what he called, positive conclusions, before reporting to the U.N. Security Council. That report is expected on January 27.

Before then, Mr. ElBaradei and chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix will travel to Baghdad.

Meanwhile, Russia announced its leading Iraq expert, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov, will lead a delegation to Iraq very soon.

The statement adds that the talks will include issues related to economic cooperation between Russia and Iraq, including oil and gas. Analysts say Russia is concerned about the impact on its economic interests if there is a war against Iraq.

Foreign Minister Ivanov reiterated Russia's view that U.N. weapons inspectors have yet to find any evidence proving Iraq is developing banned weapons. Mr. Ivanov said only inspectors, can come to such a conclusion.

His remarks were an apparent response to President Bush, who said Tuesday he was growing 'sick and tired' of what he called Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's games and deception. Mr. Bush has said he sees no evidence Iraq has disarmed.