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No grounds for Iraq attack: Putin

Putin: Deep doubts that there are grounds for use of force  

LONDON, England -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has told British Prime Minister Tony Blair Friday that he doubts there are any grounds for using force against Iraq.

Putin's comments come as U.S. President Bush launches a concerted effort to push his case internationally for toppling Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, with strong backing from Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair. (Full story)

The Russian news agency RIA, quoting a Kremlin statement, said Putin told the British leader he had "deep doubts that there are grounds for the use of force in connection with Iraq," Reuters news agency reported.

A Kremlin spokesman also said Putin had spoken with President Bush, but offered no details of the conversation.

Bush telephoned the leaders of France and China on Friday, countries which, along with Russia, the UK and U.S., form the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

A spokeswoman for Chirac, Catherine Colonna, said that during the conversation with the French leader repeated his long-standing position on the issue -- that any military action against Baghdad must be decided by the U.N. Security Council.

Any of the council's permanent members could veto Security Council resolutions on Iraq.

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Bush's drive for international backing for a military strike against Iraq will culminate in a speech at the United Nations next Thursday, where the U.S. president will argue that Iraqi Saddam is a menace to the entire world.

Blair, Bush's strongest supporter among America's allies for a military strike, is preparing for talks on Iraq on Saturday at Camp David with Bush.

So far, only Britain has voiced support for Bush's position of ousting Saddam.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Friday: "It would be wildly irresponsible to argue that patience with Iraq should be unlimited or that military action should not be an option."

"No other country but Iraq poses same unique threat to the integrity of international law," Straw said. "No other country, but Iraq has same appetite both for developing and for using weapons mass destruction."

The White House is also seeking a congressional endorsement of any military action, preferably before Congress adjourns in October for midterm elections.

Blair earlier said he was prepared for Britain to pay "a blood price" to maintain its special relationship with the United States, adding it was important the U.S. knew they could count on Britain in a crisis.

Blair, being interviewed for a BBC television documentary to be screened on Sunday, was asked if he recognised that "one of the elements of the special relationship for the Americans is that Britain is prepared to send troops to commit themselves, to pay a blood price?"

He replied: "Yes. What is important too is that at moments of crisis they don't need to know simply that you are giving general expressions of support and sympathy.

"They need to know, are you prepared to commit, are you prepared to be there when the shooting starts?"

But the prime minister, facing growing criticism at home for his strong support for Bush, was keen to stress that the U.S. did not dictate Britain's policy.

Blair will visit Bush at Camp David on Saturday  

"I would never back America if I thought they were doing something wrong," he said.

Meanwhile, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said on Thursday a U.S. war against Iraq would "open the gates of hell" in the Middle East. (Full story)

Coalition aircraft attacked an Iraqi air defence command and control facility on Thursday southwest of Baghdad, the U.S. Central Command said.

The U.S. Central Command said that the Iraqis have fired on coalition aircraft more than 130 times since January 1, 2002. (Full story)

Turkey has sent a government-led delegation to Baghdad in a move seen as underscoring its ambivalence to a U.S. call for support to oust Saddam Hussein.

Turkey, a base for U.S. warplanes monitoring Iraq, is among many countries that fear a war in Iraq could destabilise the region. (Full story)




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