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Russia warns against Iraq attack

Sabri's Moscow mission is part of a stepped up Iraqi diplomatic offensive  

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia says it will not support any U.S. military action against Iraq because it would only "complicate" attempts to resolve problems in the Middle East.

"Any decision to use force against Iraq would not only complicate an Iraqi settlement but also undermine the situation in the Gulf and the Middle East," Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said after talks with Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri on Monday.

However, Ivanov said Russia's traditional support for Iraq would end if the nation did not halt its programme to develop weapons of mass destruction -- chemical and biological.

Sabri is in Moscow to try to press permanent U.N. Security Council member Russia to back his country's campaign to stiffen international resistance to U.S. threats to attack Baghdad.

Iraq's deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz hits back at U.S. claims (September 2)

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CNN's Jill Dougherty describes how Russia is walking a fine line in its diplomatic relations with Iraq between politics and economics (September 2)

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Pakistan shuns action against Iraq 
U.S. charges baseless, says Tariq Aziz 
Europe and Middle East stands on Iraq 

Russia has urged Iraq to allow the return of U.N. inspectors, and has said any problem must be solved through the United Nations.

"The Russian side sees an exclusively political-diplomatic path to resolving the Iraqi problem, in line with the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions," Interfax news agency quoted a Foreign Ministry source as saying before Monday's meeting.

Last week Sabri visited China, bolstered by a tour of Syria and Lebanon by Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan.

Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz is in the company of more than 100 world leaders at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg after telling CNN that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and that Baghdad was willing to prove it to U.S. congressmen by "technically viable" means.

"Everybody in the world should know that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq," Aziz told CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer. (Full story)

Meanwhile, Iran called on neighbouring Iraq on Monday to agree to the speedy return of U.N. arms inspectors in order to avoid an attack by the United States.

"We hope the Iraqi government will co-operate with the United Nations for the quick return of arms inspectors to end the current dispute with the United Nations," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told Reuters.

"Unfortunately, Iraqi officials have proven that they always make the worst mistakes at very sensitive junctures," Asefi said.

And Pakistan leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf said his country would not join the United States in any military action. (Full story)

U.N. arms experts left Iraq in December 1998 ahead of a U.S.-British bombing campaign to punish Baghdad for its alleged failure to co-operate with inspectors.

-- Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty contributed to this report




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