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Russia: Moscow Backs EU Resolution On Iraq During Prodi Visit

Moscow, 19 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Russia has welcomed a European Union declaration warning that Iraq risks war if it does not cooperate fully with UN disarmament demands. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov made the announcement following talks between President Vladimir Putin and European Commission President Romano Prodi, who spent several hours in Moscow last night.

Ivanov told reporters that Putin views the European Union statement "on the whole, positively." "We feel that Iraq carries special responsibility to ensure that the mission of United Nations inspectors produces results and gives an answer to the international community and guarantees to the international community that Iraq does not have weapons of mass destruction and does not have the potential to develop them," Ivanov said.

Putin sent his presidential plane to fetch Prodi, who had accepted an invitation to meet with him and Ivanov behind closed doors to deliver a briefing on the EU resolution. The resolution was adopted on 17 February by the 15-member bloc during an emergency summit on Iraq.

Ivanov said Russia's position on Iraq is generally close to the EU's, insisting that the United Nations Security Council must remain at the center of decision making over the issue. "We agreed to cooperate closely in the interests of a political solution to the situation surrounding Iraq," Ivanov said.

The EU statement warns Iraq that it has one "last chance" to disarm peacefully but agrees to give UN inspectors more time. That is a concession to France and Germany, which have led protests again U.S. plans for a military attack against Baghdad.

Russia has also criticized the U.S. position on Iraq.

Prodi yesterday said he does not see anything worrying about disagreements within the EU over whether to back the positions of Washington and its closest ally, Britain, over Iraq, Interfax reported. The United States and Britain are working on a new Security Council resolution seeking support for the use of force against Iraq.

Russia is one of five permanent members of the 15-member Security Council with veto power over any resolution. Fellow war critics France and China are also permanent members.

An ally in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, Moscow has nonetheless opposed what it sees as Washington's unilateralism over the Iraq issue.

Russia's powerful oil industry is interested in safeguarding billion-dollar contracts in oil-rich Iraq, while the Kremlin is keen on recovering $8 billion in Soviet-era debt from Baghdad.

But Putin has kept his options open over whether he would, in the end, back an attack on Iraq.

Ivanov also met yesterday with Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio. Madrid strongly backs Washington's stance that UN inspections are not working in Iraq.

Putin and Prodi discussed other issues, as well, including EU plans to expand into Eastern Europe. Ivanov said Putin reiterated a proposal for visa-free travel between Russia and EU countries.

The two men also discussed plans for an upcoming Russian-EU summit in St. Petersburg in May.

Prodi returned to Brussels following the meeting.