Russia is still not ruling out the use of its veto in the UN Security Council to prevent a war in Iraq, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has told the BBC.
Mr Ivanov ruled out abstention in the Security Council
He rejected speculation that Russia might stand aside by abstaining if the US and UK press for a new Security Council resolution specifically authorising force.
"The right of veto can be used by any permanent member of the Security Council, including Russia," he told BBC Talking Point live, answering questions sent in by BBC News Online readers.
"If the situation demands, Russia will of course use its right of veto," he said.
Mr Ivanov added: "Abstaining is not a position Russia can take, we have to take a clear position and we are for a political solution".
Those who favoured a military solution were making a mistake, he said.
Speaking after talks with his UK counterpart, Jack Straw, in London, Mr Ivanov said constructive dialogue was continuing in the search for a solution.
He added that the question of Russia using its veto at the UN had not been discussed, but other inter-related matters - such as how to fight international terrorism - were raised.
Mr Straw said Britain and Russia agreed that Iraq had to be disarmed.
Vote 'not expedient'
Earlier, Mr Ivanov told the BBC he expected the chief UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix, and the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed ElBaradei, to make a report this week that would provide a timetable for continued inspections.
Born in 1945
Was trade envoy and later ambassador to Spain
Appointed foreign minister by Boris Yeltsin
Was Russia's chief anti-West protagonist during Nato bombing of Yugoslavia
"On the basis of their reports we will put forward further actions... We and others will demand that inspectors continue their work on the basis of a specific plan and specific dates," he said.
He added that it was not "expedient" to put to a vote the draft resolution sponsored by the US, the UK and Spain, which could be used as a final authorisation for war.
But in an exclusive BBC interview broadcast on Tuesday, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said even the destruction of Iraqi al-Samoud missiles was no real sign of disarmament
Iraq could build new weapons even with inspectors in the country, he added.
Together with France and Germany, Russia has co-sponsored a memorandum to the Security Council envisaging the continuation of "enhanced" arms inspections in Iraq at least until June.
Russia is one of five permanent members of the Security Council - along with the US, the UK, France and China - which have the right of veto.
However, analysts say Moscow is unlikely in practice to do anything that would ruin the new warmth of its relationship with the US, or to undermine the authority of the UN.
Mr Ivanov underlined that Russia had made great efforts to ensure unanimity in the Security Council.
"In the past Iraq has exploited the differences in the Security Council. Unity provides the best guarantee of solving the problem of Iraq," he said.
The Russian foreign minister denied that Moscow's position was determined by its economic interests in Iraq, which include multi-billion-dollar oil deals signed with the regime of Saddam Hussein.
He said international security and stability were the top priority.
In other developments:
- UN Secretary General Kofi Annan welcomes Iraq's destruction of al-Samoud missiles and says the diplomatic process should be given more time
- Iran calls for a UN-supervised election in Iraq to effect a power transition
The US orders another 60,000 troops to head for the Gulf even though they might only arrive after war has begun
- Saddam urges Iraqis to remain faithful and says "the believers" will beat the armies of President Bush, whom he called a "tyrant" who thought he was God