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Russian Parliament Postpones Discussion of Anti-War Resolution


Russia's lower house of parliament, the Duma, has postponed discussion on a draft resolution critical of the U.S.-led war on Iraq. The delay comes amid a softening of rhetoric on Iraq by several Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin.

After days of heated debate on Iraq over the past few weeks, Russia's lower house of parliament, the Duma, put off discussion on the latest draft proposal calling for an immediate end to the war.

The deputy chairman of the Duma's international affairs committee gave little explanation Friday, other than to say that numerous amendments and proposals remained to be factored into the text. He predicted debate would resume next week.

The delay in the scheduled discussion raised immediate questions about whether the Duma was moving to reflect the softer tone on Iraq being put forth this week by President Putin and other Russian officials.

As U.S.-led coalition forces advanced to the outskirts of Baghdad in recent days, the near daily Russian criticism seen in previous weeks has waned.

President Putin told reporters late Thursday that Russia's opposition to the war should not be allowed to harm the Russian-U.S. relationship.

He said Russia would continue to cooperate with the United States because, as he put it, it is in Russia's best interest.

The Russian president cited nuclear non-proliferation and international terrorism as two areas of joint interest for the United States and Russia. He also said the latest tensions over Iraq should not be allowed to disrupt U.S.-Russian trade, which expected to reach $10 billion this year.

In an article published in the Russian daily Izvestia this week, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Alexander Vershbow, said he believes U.S.-Russian relations can survive the disagreements over Iraq. Ambassador Vershbow also vowed that the United States would not exclude Russia from potentially lucrative reconstruction contracts in post-war Iraq.

That concern has been raised repeatedly in recent days by various officials in Moscow, especially regarding long-standing Russian oil contracts in Iraq.

President Putin has stated repeatedly that Russia's economic interests in Iraq would not guide its policies. He returned to that theme Thursday, saying that, while he acknowledges war often brings out emotions, Russia would not let its emotions guide its actions.

His comments came one day after a top Russian cleric declared a Jihad, or holy war, against the United States for the war in Iraq. The Russian Prosecutor General's office Friday denounced the call as a violation of Russian Federal law, and warned the cleric that he would be prosecuted, if he repeats the offense.

Russia is home to an estimated 20 million Muslims, and concerns have been raised that the fighting in Iraq could fuel Islamic extremism in Russia and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union.

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