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 Thursday, 16 January, 2003, 02:39 GMT
Russia seeks end to Iraq crisis
US marines board assault ship in San Diego, California
The US military build-up is continuing
Russia has sent a senior envoy to Iraq to seek to defuse the confrontation between Baghdad and Washington.

Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix
The Iraqis need to do a good deal more to provide evidence if we are to avoid any worse development

Hans Blix
Speaking on his arrival on Wednesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov said Russia wanted to find a diplomatic and political solution to the crisis and prevent a military conflict.

The visit coincides with a trip by United Nations chief weapons inspector Hans Blix to Brussels to brief European Union leaders on the progress of his inspection teams in Iraq.

The BBC's Chris Morris in Brussels says Mr Blix will also want to gauge European opinion before returning to Baghdad at the weekend.

Mr Blix said on his departure for Brussels he would press Iraq to provide new evidence or face possible war.

"They have provided prompt access, been very cooperative in terms of logistics," he said.

"But they need to do a good deal more to provide evidence if we are to avoid any worse development."

Higher profile

The EU has made it plain that it does not want a war, our correspondent says, but there are clear divisions in its ranks.

France and Germany are unlikely to back US policy while Britain is taking a tougher line.

Russia is also insisting that any attack on Iraq must have the backing of the UN Security Council, while the US has reserved the right to wage war if the UN fails to force Iraq to surrender any weapons of mass destruction.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei, who was visiting Moscow, that unilateral military action against Baghdad would have dangerous consequences for world peace.

Alexander Saltanov is being accompanied on his mission by the country's deputy energy minister, Ivan Matlashov, and representatives of the Russian oil giant, Lukoil.

Analysts say the mission has two aims: firstly to ensure a higher profile for Russian diplomacy, and secondly to secure the country's interests in Iraq.

Russia fears war could hinder its efforts to recover several billion dollars in debt from Baghdad, and jeopardise big oil contracts won by its firms.

Informal discussions

On Wednesday, the US formally asked for help from its allies in Nato in the event of a war.

KEY DATES
16 Jan - Chief UN inspector Hans Blix briefs EU
19 Jan - Blix meets top Iraqi officials in Baghdad
27 Jan - First full report on inspections presented to UN
29 Jan - UN discusses report
Mid-Feb - Estimated 150,000 US troops in Gulf
15 Feb - Anti-war protests across Europe
End of March - Blix submits "key remaining disarmament tasks"
A Nato official said the alliance - which includes Iraq's neighbour Turkey - had received proposals for possible roles in any conflict against Baghdad, which the US insists possesses weapons of mass destruction.

US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the request did not mean that a strike against Baghdad was imminent.

Key meeting?

Mr Blix is due to submit his first report to the Security Council on 27 January - a deadline which could be a possible trigger for a US-led war.

His report is to be considered by governments, before the council reconvenes in closed session two days later for a fuller discussion.

BBC News Online's world affairs correspondent, Paul Reynolds, says this might be the key meeting at which positions become clear.

Britain, our correspondent says, might ask the Security Council to give the inspectors more time if nothing significant has changed before then.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is going to Washington for a meeting on Thursday 23 January with the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell.

Prime Minister Tony Blair is expected in the United States to see President George W Bush following the Security Council meetings.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Nick Childs
"Donald Rumsfeld confirmed... that a formal request has gone to Nato"
  US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld
"The president has made no decision to use force but it does take time to plan"

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16 Jan 03 | Middle East
15 Jan 03 | Middle East
16 Jan 03 | Politics
01 Oct 02 | Middle East
14 Jan 03 | Americas
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