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Russia: Putin Speaks Out Against U.S.-Led War In Iraq

Moscow, 17 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin says a U.S.-led war against Iraq would be a "mistake with the most serious consequences." "Our position remains unchanged. I am convinced that any other development [than a diplomatic solution of the Iraqi problem] would be a mistake that would entail casualties, which in itself is unacceptable because there is already a lot of suffering, but it would also destabilize to a great degree the whole international situation," Putin said.

Putin, who had not spoken publicly on the issue in weeks, said in Moscow today that war would lead to the destabilization of the international situation. He said Russia will not allow passage of a UN Security Council resolution allowing the use of force against Baghdad.

U.S. President George W. Bush, at a summit yesterday in the Azores with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, set today as a deadline for diplomatic efforts to resolve the Iraq crisis. He called on the Security Council, which reconvenes later today (4 p.m. Prague time) to approve a U.S.-backed resolution authorizing force.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin today reiterated France's view that the resolution is unacceptable.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair will hold an emergency cabinet meeting later today (5 p.m. Prague time). British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is due to address the House of Commons on Iraq a few hours later (8 p.m. Prague time.)

Meanwhile, stock markets around the world, as well as the U.S. dollar, have fallen amid fears that war is imminent in Iraq.

The main stock indexes in London, Frankfurt, and Paris lost between 1-3 percent in early trading. In Asia, the Tokyo and Hong Kong markets were also down. And investors in New York were bracing for a bumpy ride when the market reopened there.

In Turkey, a country close to the possible war zone, Istanbul's main index dropped by 8.1 percent in morning trading before recovering slightly.

The U.S. dollar dropped sharply and gold prices soared as dealers fled to so-called safe havens ahead of likely war.