Originally created 03/06/03

Blair meets Russian foreign minister to discuss Iraq



LONDON -- War in Iraq can still be avoided if Saddam Hussein fully complies with the United Nations or goes into exile, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday.

"Conflict can even now be avoided," the prime minister said, but insisted the Iraqi leader must "fully and unconditionally comply," or leave the country.

Blair said that unless chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix reported Friday that Saddam was in full compliance, he expected Security Council members to vote on a second resolution authorizing war on Iraq.

"The exact timing of any vote is still under discussion, but yes of course it is the case that if he fails fully to comply there should be a vote in the United Nations," the prime minister told the House of Commons.

Britain, the United States and Spain have proposed a draft resolution saying Saddam has missed his final opportunity to disarm - a resolution that could open the door to military action against Iraq. Blair met Wednesday with the foreign minister of Russia in an attempt to prevent Moscow from blocking the resolution.

The United States and Britain claim Iraq has refused to destroy its chemical and biological weapons, as ordered by the United Nations, and they say military action will probably be necessary.

Other Security Council members, led by France, say the U.N. inspections are working and want the inspectors to be given four more months to hunt for banned chemical and biological arms.

Blair met with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov for nearly an hour Wednesday. But Blair's office acknowledged afterward there was still disagreement over Iraq.

"The Russians do come at this from a different perspective about how to deliver Iraqi compliance, but not on the need for Iraq to comply. Therefore, the discussions continue," said Blair's spokesman.

On Tuesday, Ivanov suggested Russia could veto the resolution. "Russia will not support any decision that would directly or indirectly open the way to war with Iraq," Ivanov was quoted as saying by the British Broadcasting Corp.'s World Service radio.

He also said his country was unlikely to abstain in any Security Council vote on Iraq.

"I think that in the current situation - a very critical situation, a crucial situation - to abstain is not a position that Russia can adopt. Russia must take a clear position, and we are taking one, in favor of a political settlement," Ivanov said, speaking through an interpreter.