Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov says the U.N. Security Council's five permanent members are closer to agreement on a resolution dealing with Iraq, but he says Russia continues to insist the resolution should not give any nation the right to use force.
Significantly closer is how Mr. Ivanov describes the five permanent council members' positions on weapons inspections in Iraq after nearly seven weeks of intense negotiations.
But the foreign minister, while optimistic that diplomats could be on the brink of an agreement, acknowledged serious differences remain. He said the differences continue to center on possible consequences for Iraq, if it does not fully comply with the new resolution.
Mr. Ivanov said Russia continues to believe that if problems come up during the inspections, the issue should be returned to the Security Council.
The head of the U.N.'s Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency shares Mr. Ivanov's optimism. Mohamed El Baradei told reporters in Vienna he sees a real narrowing of the gap in opinion.
Earlier this week, Mr. El Baradei and chief U.N. Arms Inspector Hans Blix met with President Bush and other top U.S. officials.
The United States is seeking a more toughly worded resolution that veto-holding council members Russia, China and France fear could be used to justify a military strike on Iraq, without specific Security Council endorsement.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has indicated President Bush is willing to compromise, but not so much as to, in his words, be handcuffed and unable to take whatever action is necessary to find and destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
Iraq, says it is ready to allow weapons inspectors to return after a four-year absence. But it says no new U.N. resolution is needed.