The White House is downplaying the idea of a deep rift with Russia over Iraq. The comments follow Russian President Vladimir Putin cautioning Washington against taking unilateral military action against Iraq.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, President Putin warned the United States against going alone when it comes to Iraq.

He described Iraq as a "problem" that Russia is willing to help solve but only under the auspices of the United Nations. Mr. Putin did not rule out U.N.-sanctioned military action, but said the use of force should be considered a last resort.

When asked about the interview, White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer tried to put the focus on the positive. He said the United States is continuing to work with Russia on foreign policy matters, including the development of revised U.N. sanctions on Iraq.

Mr. Fleischer went on to stress that President Bush believes in the need for "constructive engagement" with Russia. When asked about possible strains in the anti-terrorist coalition, the White House spokesman said only that Mr. Bush thinks the coalition can be maintained through strength, leadership and consultations.