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Russia Willing to Negotiate on Tough New UN Iraq Resolution - 2002-10-11

Russian President Vladimir Putin has told visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair that a deal can be struck for a tough new U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq. But Mr. Putin said so far he is not convinced such a resolution is necessary, or that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.

President Putin says Russia is ready to discuss ways to ensure full access for international inspectors hunting weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But after two days of talks with Prime Minister Blair outside Moscow, Mr. Putin did not sign on to the U.S. and British-backed resolution designed to provide such access, and authorizing the possible use of force if Iraq does not comply.

Mr. Putin said Russia has yet to see what he called conclusive evidence proving Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.

Russia has strong economic interests in Iraq. Analysts have suggested officials in Moscow fear what could happen to those multi-million dollar ties if there is a war and a change of government in Baghdad.

But President Putin rejected suggestions that Russia is withholding its support in the hope of extracting a pay-off from Britain and the United States.

President Putin said he is not looking for any trade of support for money with the western powers. He said he invited the prime minister to visit to discuss a wide range of issues not, in his words, to an Eastern bazaar.

Prime Minister Blair, who reportedly described the talks as friendly, traveled to Russia hoping to persuade President Putin that the time to forge a common Security Council position is now.

"Conflict is not inevitable, but the disarmament of Iraq of all weapons of mass destruction is," prime minister Blair said. "And it is plainly preferable that that happens through the U-N inspections and monitoring regime going in there, doing its job properly and closing down any possibility of these weapons being developed."

President Putin says he agrees with Mr. Blair that U.N weapons inspectors should return to Iraq as quickly as possibly.

But on the key question of the need to threaten military force to ensure Iraq's compliance, Mr. Putin stood his ground. He also called for further discussions on the issue in the days ahead.