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Bush appeals to Putin on Iraq

White House says talk with Russian leader 'productive'

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday to support a new United Nations Security Council resolution that demands Iraq honor its commitments to the United Nations.

Putin said he favored the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq as soon as possible. It was not clear whether Bush made any progress in persuading him that the inspectors should return only when the Security Council makes it explicit that any interference with the mission could trigger military strikes.

"It was a productive discussion," a White House official said. But the official declined to provide additional information or characterization of the discussion, which came just a few hours before Bush met with the Russian foreign and defense ministers at the White House.

Separately, the White House said it was open to negotiations on the wording of the draft resolution the administration sent Thursday to Capitol Hill.

The White House said Bush was referring to Iraq only in a portion of the draft that states the president should be authorized to use military force to "restore international peace and security in the region." Some in Congress have questioned whether that would be a "blank check" to launch military strikes elsewhere in the region.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said it would be "wrong to interpret those words to mean anything beyond Iraq." But other administration officials acknowledged that, because of the early reactions from key members of Congress, this one passage was almost certain to be re-written with language that makes clear it is focused on Iraq.

But these officials also said the president would not accept language sought by some Democrats that authorizes U.S. military strikes only in conjunction with the United Nations.

The White House said it was confident both the Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress agreed with Bush on this issue.

U.N. inspectors have set a tentative date of October 15 for their return to Iraq. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Thursday that the United States will block any attempt to send the inspectors back without a new mandate from the U.N. Security Council.

The proposed return of inspectors would be the first time inspectors will have entered Iraq since December 1998, when they pulled out ahead of joint U.S.-British airstrikes.

Powell said any new U.N. resolution must make clear that any obstruction of the inspections by Baghdad would result in "hard consequences."

"If the U.N. decides to send inspection teams back in under a new mandate -- anytime, any place, anywhere with no hindrances tolerated -- and Iraq tried to frustrate that, the teams come out. We don't play games at palaces. We don't stand around debating or arguing with them," Powell said Thursday before the House International Relations Committee.

On the Hill

Powell made the comments as President Bush asked Congress for the authority to strike Iraq and repeated his vow to take action if the United Nations does not.

"I don't trust Iraq, and neither should the free world. For 11 years, they have deceived the world," Bush told reporters as his draft resolution made the rounds on Capitol Hill -- to a decidedly mixed reception. (Full story)

The proposed White House resolution submitted to Congress would give Bush the authority to use "all means that he determines to be appropriate, including force, in order to enforce the United Nations Security Council resolutions, defend the national security interests of the United States against the threat posed by Iraq and restore international peace and security in the region."

Also Thursday, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein issued a statement, which was read by Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri to the U.N. General Assembly, in which he denied Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.

"Iraq is totally clear of all nuclear, chemical and biological weapons," the message said. "If anyone amongst you still worries that the fabrications announced by American officials about Iraq may possibly be true, our country is ready to receive any experts, accompanied by politicians from any one of your countries." (Full story)

CNN White House correspondent John King contributed to this report.

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