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 Tuesday, 28 January, 2003, 15:45 GMT
Putin warns Iraq amid EU rift
UN inspectors at work in Iraq
Europe wants more time - but how much more?
Russia's position on Iraq could toughen if Baghdad fails to co-operate with the UN weapons inspectors, President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday.

But he repeated his warning that the US should not go it alone in any war, stressing that US respect for the UN was paramount.

Russia has been firmly opposing the prospect of military action, saying there is no evidence to justify it.

Vladimir Putin
Putin urges respects for international law
Mr Putin's comments came as other European countries disagreed sharply over the implications of the report by chief weapons inspector Hans Blix report to the UN Security Council.

On Monday they agreed a statement urging Iraq to comply with UN resolutions without delay and welcomed the inspectors' "intention to continue and intensify their operations".

"If Iraq starts to present problems for inspectors, then Russia could change its position and agree with the United States on new, tougher actions by the UN Security Council," Mr Putin said during a visit to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev.

IRAQ - WHO STANDS WHERE
Saddam Hussein
Fully or broadly behind US - UK, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Denmark
Fully or broadly opposed - France, Germany, Greece, Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg
No clear position - Ireland, Portugal, Sweden, Finland
Mr Putin also stressed the need to give the inspection teams more time.

He continued to press the US to act only through the Security Council, where Russia has the power of veto, saying that respect for international institutions was essential in the post-Cold War world.

"How we construct the building of international security in the new conditions - this is a more important question than Iraq." In Brussels, the European Union's divided foreign ministers discussed Iraq for a second day, as Greece maintained its efforts to steer the group towards a common policy and the crisis towards a peaceful resolution.

"We have a window of opportunity. Let's use it," said Greek FM George Papandreou.

He said the ministers had held "informal" talks on Hans Blix's report to the UN Security Council, exchanging "our first impressions and possible steps that Europe could take, the initiatives that Europe could possibly take."

Outside the meeting room, however, foreign ministers have made clear their very different interpretations of the Blix report.

UN weapons chief inspector Hans Blix
Blix's report has received very different interpretations
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said it showed Iraqi co-operation was a "charade", and that Baghdad was in "material breach" of UN resolutions.

But others, including France and Germany, said the statement demonstrated the need for more time for the inspectors.

Germany's Joschka Fischer said the inspections had to continue. "War is no alternative," he said.

Some European nations believe the inspectors should be given months longer if necessary, while the UK is believed to back an earlier deadline.

Mr Papandreou would not be drawn on how much longer the inspectors should be given.

If they don't respond favourably to the demands of the EU, I think it means the Iraqis don't want to reintegrate into the international community... that they constitute a danger to international security

Louis Michel
Belgian Foreign Minister
"I want to be very clear that it wouldn't be helpful for us to make an arbitrary judgment on the deadline," he said.

There were signs that Belgium, previously close to the Franco-German position, might be becoming more hawkish.

"If they don't respond favourably to the demands of the EU, I think it means the Iraqis don't want to reintegrate into the international community, that they manifestly have something to hide, that they have a dangerous agenda, and that they constitute a danger to international security," Foreign Minister Louis Michel said.

Deputy Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy acknowledged that Monday's joint foreign ministers' statement was "minimal", but should still applauded. Spain believes a second UN resolution before any war is desirable but not essential - the position held by Washington.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's David Chazan
"Russia seems to be edging closer to the position of the US and Britain"

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28 Jan 03 | Europe
27 Jan 03 | Europe
28 Jan 03 | Europe
28 Jan 03 | Politics
26 Jan 03 | Americas
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