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Monday, 10 February, 2003, 05:47 GMT
Efforts to avert Iraq war intensify
Vladimir Putin with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Sunday
European leaders are closing ranks against war
Efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the Iraq crisis intensify on Monday when Russian President Vladimir Putin begins a visit to France.

Anti-war campaigners pass through Istanbul en route to Baghdad
Opinion polls suggest little support for war among Europeans
Both countries could veto military action through the UN Security Council, which is due to hear the UN inspectors' crucial latest report on Iraqi compliance on Friday.

Ahead of his visit to France, Mr Putin endorsed a new Franco-German plan to avert war by boosting UN weapons inspections - a plan dismissed by the US secretary of state as a "diversion".

The chief weapons inspectors, Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, left Baghdad on Monday, saying there had been signs of new co-operation, but no "breakthrough" after two days of talks.

Mr Blix said he would welcome more time for the inspections to take place.

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

Also on Monday, Nato faces an open split over military action with a deadline for members to back special defence arrangements for Turkey due to expire on Monday.

'No grounds for war'

On the first day of his three-day visit to France, the Russian president is scheduled to meet Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin and President Jacques Chirac.

CURRENT SECURITY COUNCIL
UN Security Council
For military action: US*, UK*, Spain and Bulgaria
Sceptics or opposed: France*, Russia*, China*, Germany and Syria
In doubt: Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan
Nine votes and no veto required to pass a resolution

(*Veto-wielding countries)

Mr ElBaradei said on Sunday that the Baghdad talks had proved that "an inspection can work and an inspection can provide an alternative to war".

Russia's Itar-Tass news agency says the visit that it is aimed at boosting relations "to the level of strategic partnership".

"All those who follow the evolution of the situation in Iraq can see that France, Germany and Russia are almost completely in agreement," Mr Putin said on a brief visit to Germany on Sunday.

"At the moment, there is no basis for resorting to the use of force," he stressed.

Details of the Franco-German plan are due to be presented to the Security Council on Friday after Mr Blix and Mr ElBaradei deliver their report.

'UN protectorate'

The inspectors' report could trigger US-led military action if it proves negative.

German news magazine Der Spiegel has sketched out the main features of the peace plan being drafted by France and Germany:

  • A tripling of the number of inspectors now searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq

  • The deployment of thousands of UN troops from Germany and other states in Iraq to help the inspectors carry out more thorough searches

  • The declaration of all of Iraq's airspace a no-fly zone to allow surveillance flights by spy planes.

Der Spiegel says that, under the plan, Iraq would, in effect, become a UN protectorate with Saddam Hussein its ruler in name only.

Decision time

The US Secretary of State has dismissed the plan as irrelevant.

"The issue is not more inspectors," Colin Powell said on US television.

"This idea of more inspectors or a no-fly zone or whatever else may be in this proposal that is being developed is a diversion, not a solution."

US President George W Bush again challenged the UN Security Council to take tough action on Iraq when he delivered a speech in West Virginia on Sunday.

"The United Nations gets to decide shortly whether or not it is going to be relevant in terms of keeping the peace, whether or not its words mean anything," he said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Brian Hanrahan
"The proposals have been rejected by America"
The BBC's Rageh Omaar in Baghdad and
Andrew Gilligan in Munich discuss the latest developments in the Iraq crisis

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See also:

09 Feb 03 | Business
09 Feb 03 | Europe
09 Feb 03 | Middle East
10 Feb 03 | Europe
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