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Russia firm on diplomatic solution: Putin

Moscow, March 7 (Reuters): Russian President Vladimir Putin told US and British leaders hours ahead of a new UN Security Council meeting today that Moscow was determined to press for a diplomatic solution to disarm Iraq.

A Kremlin spokesman said Putin spoke overnight by telephone to US President George W. Bush, who later told a news conference the US intended to press within days for a UN vote authorising the use of force against Iraq. “The Russian side stressed its consistent position in favour of a peaceful solution to achieve the goal set by the international community in relation to Iraq,” the spokesman said.

“It was stressed that all means exist for such a solution and these could be strengthened and augmented if UN inspectors require it.”

The spokesman said Bush had requested the conversation with Putin, who was on a working holiday at a Black Sea resort.

Putin later spoke for more than an hour to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Washington’s most stalwart ally. Blair said today he would be prepared to strike Iraq even if some of the Security Council’s five permanent members — which include Russia — vetoed a new resolution authorising military action.

“Russia sees a peaceful, political and diplomatic solution to the Iraqi problem as fully reflecting the real state of affairs,” a Kremlin spokeswoman quoted Putin as telling Blair immediately before the UN Security Council session began in New York.

Foreign ministers of Russia, Germany and France said this week they would not allow any UN Security Council resolution authorising force against Iraq to pass.

Russian deputy foreign minister Georgy Mamedov said today Russia would consider a new resolution only if it paved the way for a political solution.

“If we are talking about a sincere attempt to find a political solution in the difficult current environment, we are ready to closely look at all proposals on the table,” he said.

British foreign secretary Jack Straw said yesterday his government was prepared to discuss new proposals acceptable to a majority of Security Council members.

The call between Bush and Putin coincided with US Senate ratification yesterday of a treaty reducing the nuclear arsenals of the US and Russia. The US hopes the vote will help win support from Moscow on Iraq.

Mamedov welcomed approval of the treaty signed last year in Moscow by Putin and Bush and praised the document as a landmark.

But he said Senate ratification would have no impact on Russia’s position on Iraq.

Russian deputy foreign minister Alexander Losyukov told Interfax Moscow had prepared contingency plans to evacuate Russians from Iraq through Iran once hostilities broke out.

Democrat opportunity

In New York, House of Representatives minority leader Nancy Pelosi today said the Democratic Party lost an opportunity five months ago to avert the massive military buildup toward war against Iraq by failing to take a unified stand.

Pelosi, a liberal California Democrat who voted against the October 2002 congressional resolution to back a possible US-led war, told a foreign policy think tank that Republican President George W. Bush “is too far down the road and I don’t think he’s turning back.”

“If the Democrats had spoken out more clearly in a unified vote five months ago in opposition to the resolution, if the people had gone on to the streets five months ago in these numbers in our country and around the world, I think we might have been in a different place today,” Pelosi said in response to a question after a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

US Senate minority leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Republican Richard Gephardt of Missouri, Pelosi’s predecessor as the top Democrat in the House, voted for the resolution. Daschle said yesterday it was premature for the US to go it alone and invade Iraq.

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