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 Tuesday, 28 January, 2003, 16:12 GMT
Russia adds to pressure on Iraq
Iraqi officials accompany UN weapons inside the General Company for Agricultural Equipment at the Jarf el-Nadaf area south of Baghdad
Iraq insists it is co-operating with the UN
International pressure is growing on Iraq a day after United Nations weapons inspectors delivered an unexpectedly critical report on Iraq's attitude to disarmament.

Russia, which has insisted on a diplomatic solution to the crisis, indicated it could harden its position if Baghdad hinders the inspectors' work.

CRUCIAL WEEK
27 Jan - First full report on inspections presented to UN
28 Jan - Bush's State of the Union speech
29 Jan - UN discusses report
31 Jan - Bush meets Blair
The UK Government, backing Washington's tough line, warned that Iraq's "time is up".

Possible conflict with Iraq is set to dominate President George W Bush's annual State of the Union address in Washington later on Tuesday (0200 GMT Wednesday.)

People tuning in "won't hear a deadline, they won't hear a declaration of war," Mr Bush's spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said.

But the US leader is likely to spell out in broad terms the threat Iraq poses to US interests.

UN route

In an apparent shift, Mr Fleischer said on Tuesday that a new UN resolution authorising military action against Iraq was "desirable, but not mandatory".

BBC News Online's Steve Schifferes in Washington says the statement marks a victory for Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has been concerned to keep Allies on board before any military action commences.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell addresses reporters after the Iraq inspectors' report
The US statement is a victory for Mr Powell
Mr Powell, who has begun to sound more hardline recently, apparently still wants unambiguous diplomatic approval for any possible war against Iraq.

Mr Fleischer also suggested that the US might soon make public intelligence information indicating that Iraq is hiding banned weapons.

Our correspondent says Washington needs to counteract a growing scepticism among the public about the need to pursue urgent military action against Saddam Hussein.

But he says that it is unlikely US intelligence contains the "smoking gun" which identifies where any missing weapons might be.

Russian stance

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, signalled a possible change in Russia's position - important because of its veto power on the Security Council.

"If Iraq begins to make problems for the inspectors, then Russia could change its position and agree with the US on new, tougher actions by the UN Security Council," Mr Putin said during a visit to Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Mr Putin indicated a possible policy chance
His remarks are in contrast to repeated Russian statements against the use of force.

However, Mr Putin also stressed that any action against Iraq must be approved by the Security Council.

Washington's respect for the UN was "an issue that is even more important than Iraq", he said.

'Unbelievable refusal'

The chance of the Iraq crisis being resolved peacefully has receded because of Baghdad's "unbelievable refusal" to comply with UN resolutions, UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said on Tuesday.

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz has insisted Iraq is co-operating with UN inspectors, but promised they would concentrate on improving.

In an interview with Canadian television, he also refused to rule out attacking Kuwait if it is used as a base for a US military operation against Iraq.

"We will of course retaliate against the American troops wherever they start their aggression on Iraq. This is legitimate," he said.

Inspectors' report

UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix told the UN Security Council on Monday that Iraq has so far complied with UN demands only reluctantly and might still possess biological and chemical weapons.

UN'S CONCERNS
No proof of destruction of anthrax stocks
300 rocket engines unaccounted for
VX gas not destroyed?
Harassment of inspectors

Click here to see Blix's speech point by point

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, said his inspectors had found no evidence that Iraq had resumed the nuclear programme it discontinued in the early 1990s.

But Mr ElBaradei said the inspectors needed "a few months" to continue their work, describing this as "a valuable investment in peace".

Other members of the Security Council with the power of veto - China and France - continue to insist on a diplomatic solution.

China on Tuesday called on Baghdad to be more co-operative but urged patience from the US.

Open in new window : Who backs war?
Where key nations stand on Iraq

"We maintain that no conclusions should be jumped to," foreign ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said.

The Security Council will hold closed discussions on Wednesday to consider the next step.

The inspectors are due to deliver a further report on 14 February.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's David Chazan
"Russia seems to be edging closer to the position of the US and Britain"
  Tariq Aziz, Iraq Deputy Prime Minister
"We are taking the threats seriously"
  Colin Powell, US Secretary of State
"Iraq's refusal to disarm ... still threatens international peace"

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28 Jan 03 | Media reports
28 Jan 03 | Middle East
27 Jan 03 | Americas
27 Jan 03 | Middle East
19 Nov 02 | Middle East
27 Jan 03 | Middle East
27 Jan 03 | Middle East
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