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Bush `encouraged' in bid to seek support for tough policy against Iraq

WASHINGTON—President Bush made some headway in lining up support for a tough policy on Iraq, but it remained to be seen if the United Nations would accept his call for military force if Iraq defies weapon inspectors' demands.

Bush spoke by telephone with Russian President Vladimir Putin and met with two Russian ministers to try to persuade them of the need for an aggressive disarmament policy against Iraq. The Russian officials indicated they may be prepared to support the U.S. demand for a tough new weapons inspection program in Iraq.

"The president is encouraged," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "The president talked about the need to make certain that the United Nations passed resolutions that are firm, that accomplish the goals of disarmament and don't let Iraq avoid responsibility."

A consensus also appeared to be emerging Friday among U.N. Security Council members on the need for some kind of U.N. decree to ensure the success of renewed weapons inspections in Iraq. Some countries oppose American demands for military action if Iraq defies a new inspection regime.

Diplomats from Security Council member countries who attended a briefing at the British U.N. mission and who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the British insisted that the resolution contain a credible threat if Iraq does not comply. They also said the wording of the resolution could be ready Wednesday for Security Council consideration.

A U.N. official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.N. resolution would probably contain language that could be broadly interpreted and would not have an explicit prohibition or authorization on the use of force.

In Congress, Bush was building bipartisan support for a congressional resolution that would allow him to wage war even without U.N. backing. Bush hopes a strong congressional resolution will help secure U.N. support for the use of force as a last resort against Saddam.

But a significant number of Senate Democrats said they were unwilling to give Bush a blank check to go to war and wanted assurances that force would be used only if authorized by the United Nations. That means Bush would have to accept a toned down congressional resolution or risk a divided vote that could hurt his chances at getting a tough resolution from the U.N. Security Council.

Putin's support is essential for Bush because Russia, like the United States, is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and can veto any resolution the council considers.

Iraq's pledge this week to allow "unconditional" weapons inspections prompted Russia and France, which also has veto power, to voice reservations about using military force against Saddam. China, another veto power, is suspicious of U.S. targeting of Iraq and has called for respecting Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said after he and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov met with Bush on Friday that Russia was "also interested to the same extent that the work of the inspectors be maximally effective."

U.S. officials complain that the current rules for inspections are lax. For example, inspectors would have to give advance notice before inspecting eight massive presidential compounds.

The Russian foreign minister continued to oppose Bush's vow to use force against Iraq, and said it was up to the U.N. Security Council to decide how to proceed if Iraq reneged on its pledge to allow the inspections to resume without conditions.

"War is a radical measure which cannot avoid casualties and heavy consequences," he said.

His comments indicated that while Moscow could support a new U.N. resolution giving greater powers to U.N. inspectors, it would oppose Bush's demand that it empower U.N. member states to retaliate for any Iraqi defiance.

Russia has been a key diplomatic ally in Iraq's efforts to end U.N. sanctions imposed after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The sanctions can only be lifted once U.N. inspectors confirm that all of Iraq's illegal weapons programs have ended.

Iraq owes Russia about $8 billion, mostly for past weapons sales.

Putin appears open to some kind of compromise with Bush in order to preserve improved relations between the former Cold War foes and ensure that Russian firms can continue to do business with Iraq should a U.S.-led invasion topple Saddam.

Russia also seems to be seeking from Bush a green light to launch its own military strikes at Chechen rebels hiding in the remote Pankisi Gorge in the neighboring country of Georgia.

Seizing on Bush's new strategy of eliminating terrorist threats with pre-emptive strikes, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov appeared to step up pressure on the White House to accede to Russian action in Georgia.

He said that he and Igor Ivanov had presented documents to Bush proving evidence that "a number of Georgian authorities have direct ties" to Chechen rebels and that there was a direct threat to Russia from Georgian territory.

"The president stressed the importance of Russia protecting the sovereignty, the territorial integrity of Georgia," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

Bush's moves Friday came as the administration released a new document on military strategy that shifts U.S. policy away from containment and deterrence in favor of pre-emptive action against terror groups and rogue nations that have weapons of mass destruction. The document represents a significant departure from the world view that has shaped U.S. military and foreign policies since the Cold War began.

The new doctrine lays the foundation for unilateral action against Iraq.

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans and a number of Democrats voiced support for Bush's proposed resolution authorizing use of force against Iraq.

That resolution seeks broad authority to use "all means he determines to be appropriate, including force" to disarm Iraq. It warned of the threat of a surprise attack by Saddam using weapons of mass destruction against U.S. interests. It also cited Iraq's failure to comply with a number of U.N. resolutions, including a demand that it submit to inspections and disarm itself of any nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

Democrats on Friday were divided on how to react to Bush's entreaty. Most appeared to oppose any resolution that would allow the United States to use force without U.N. backing.

"It's very important that we move with other nations in terms of the risk to America," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. "If we do this right and we have a coalition we can every effectively eliminate (Saddam) as one of the worst threats in the region."

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., added: "No Congress should pass a blank check and let any administration fill in the amount later. The resolution proposed by the administration is overly broad, makes no mention of the efforts to build an international coalition at the United Nations, and is premature."

But another group of Democrats, many of them facing tough re-elections in November, was eager to support the president.

"I intend to vote for it," said Sen. Jean Carnahan, D-Mo., who is in a neck-and-neck race with former Republican Rep. James Talent.

"There's some in our caucus—I'm among that group—that's pretty favorable as it is now," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who also is facing a re-election challenge.

"I'd like to work in an international group and I think we need to continue our press for diplomacy," Landrieu went on, "but I'm willing to go forward even if we have to go with limited support because I think that the threat is real."

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(Knight Ridder correspondent Diego Ibarguen contributed to this report.)

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(c) 2002, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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