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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 5 March, 2003, 05:20 GMT
Igor Ivanov: cheery and direct
Igor Ivanov with Bridget Kendall
Mr Ivanov answered questions from BBC News Online readers

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has told the BBC that Russia could yet use its UN Security Council veto over Iraq.

He made the comments to BBC Talking Point live, answering questions sent in by BBC News Online readers.

The BBC's Bridget Kendall interviewed Mr Ivanov, and here gives her impression of the veteran Russian diplomat:

Igor Ivanov stepped out of his official limousine with a spring in his step and a cheerful look on his face.

I introduced myself in Russian. He answered confidently in English.

Mistake number one: Contrary to my expectation, the Russian Foreign Minister does in fact speak quite good English. He just does not like to be interviewed in it.

No wonder, really, if you are weighing each nuanced hint you drop about a possible Russian veto against assurances that Moscow's top priorities are Security Council unity and continued cooperation with partners like Britain and America.

Good humour

Mistake number two was to assume Mr Ivanov was as sombre and poker-faced as he sometimes looks at international press conferences.

I had always thought of him as "bad cop" in a "good cop: bad cop" scenario.

He got to deliver gloomy warnings of Russian non-collaboration, while his boss, President Vladimir Putin, got to eat barbecue with the US president and look deep into his American eyes to convince him he was a guy to be trusted.

But as we made our way through the labyrinth of BBC's Television Centre in London, I quickly concluded Mr Ivanov was anything but gloomy.

Embarrassingly, we had to wait ages for a lift. But Mr Ivanov's good humour seemed boundless.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (L) with Igor Ivanov
Ivanov doubted the US will win a UN vote

"Is that all for us?" he asked, as a BBC kitchen worker pushed past a large trolley laden with water bottles.

As we all finally squeezed into the lift, he shouted jokingly to his ambassador to London: "Out you get! You're too heavy! The doors won't close!"

And when I suggested make up for the TV cameras, he musingly replied: "I wonder what the British Foreign Secretary will make of me if I turn up with powder on my nose."

Direct answers

My third mistake was to worry he would be evasive and long-winded.

That was to happen later, at his press conference with Jack Straw, a master performance on both their parts of delicacy and diplomatic obfuscation.

But for the BBC's world audience, he was prepared to be considerably more direct.

"How long do you want my answers?" he asked quietly before we began. No wonder he was clear cut.

Perhaps Igor Ivanov was determined to do his best - not just to turn the spotlight on Russia in the midst of this crisis, but also on himself a little
As the interview wore on, I realised this hour-long exposure to the world's questions was taking place because Russia is feeling supremely confident at this moment.

And as the poker game which is the battle for votes in the UN Security Council reaches its climax, what better way to make your case to the international community than take to the international airwaves?

Anyway, with no obvious sign that the US, Britain, and Spain are winning any more allies beyond Bulgaria to support their second resolution, Russia can afford to relax a little.

After all, if the Americans fail to win over nine voices out of the Security Council's 15 to vote in favour of a resolution to pave the way for war, then Moscow, like France, can brandish its veto threat without fear.

There will be little chance during this Iraq crisis that it will have to use it.

Well connected

"I don't think they'll get nine votes," he said after the interview was over, as he took off his microphone.

"I don't think even Pakistan will support the US," he added.

Igor Ivanov
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

He should know, I suppose.

This is a foreign minister who has telephoned seven out of the 10 rotating members of the Security Council in the past few days.

Though of course it is always quite possible they say one thing to Mr Ivanov, and quite another when America's big guns - Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice - come on the line.

But however the votes finally stack up, my impression was that Russia is already resigned to the prospect that the US - and presumably Britain - will go to war without a UN resolution.

In that case, Mr Ivanov's message was that Russia and others will remain critical of the use of force, but won't stop working with Washington and London, or trying to bring the debate and the centre of power back to the Security Council.

Nor was there an inkling in any of his answers, on camera or off, that Moscow is considering coming round to the US view if it can do a deal on its oil interests in Iraq and secure a promise to be paid back the billions of dollars Iraq still owes it.

If it does turn out that Russia is prepared to be won over after all in the name of economic self interest, then Mr Ivanov did a good job of persuading us to the contrary.

It was overall a good performance. Perhaps Igor Ivanov was determined to do his best - not just to turn the spotlight on Russia in the midst of this crisis, but also on himself a little.

There are always rumours bubbling below the surface in Moscow of possible reshuffle plots. Mr Ivanov is sometimes seen, in the words of one Russian official, to be "a touch old-fashioned", a career diplomat who has been in the business a long time, since way back in another, Soviet, era.

What could be more 21st Century than to dip his toe into the Internet and show that he too - like Mr Putin - can handle it?

The BBC's Bridget Kendall
"The gap between Britain and Russia on Iraq is as wide apart as ever"

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