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US, Russian Officials Hold Talks on Iraq - 2003-01-23


The Kremlin says Russian President Vladimir Putin has told President Bush a U.N. report expected next week should be the key to a decision on future action on Iraq. The two leaders spoke by phone Thursday. Meanwhile, Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Richard Armitage is holding talks with Russian officials in Moscow.

In an interview broadcast live on a Moscow radio network, Mr. Armitage said U.S. policy on Iraq is clear: Saddam Hussein must eliminate his weapons of mass destruction, in order to avoid military action.

Mr. Armitage also denied a Russian news report Wednesday that quoted an unnamed Russian military source as saying a U.S.-led attack will occur in late February. He said the source was misinformed.

But at the same time, the deputy secretary of state said he does not think a second resolution by the U.N. Security Council is necessary in order for an attack to be launched. "We believe there is sufficient authority to move now, without a second resolution," he said. "No decision has yet been made on whether or not to seek a second resolution."

Meanwhile, speaking on a visit to Greece, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said, there is not yet enough evidence to justify an attack on Iraq. Mr. Ivanov said there is still room for diplomatic efforts to resolve the Iraq crisis peacefully.

In Moscow, Mr. Armitage also thanked Russian officials for their efforts to mediate the standoff over North Korea's nuclear program. Russia has been actively involved in the dispute, which escalated recently, when North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Mr. Armitage said the United States wants to show North Korea it seeks a peaceful resolution to the dispute. But he says that does not include signing a formal non-aggression treaty, as Pyongyang has demanded. "What I said was that we were not ready for a treaty, which has in our system a necessity to be ratified by the U.S. Senate," said Mr. Armitage. "I did say that we were willing to document no hostile intent or so-called security guarantees for North Korea in some manner."

Mr. Armitage said he is pleased with the level of cooperation between the United States and Russia, even if, as he put it, there are often points of disagreement between the two former Cold War adversaries.