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Russia, France shun U.S. travel ban to Iraq

In refusing to support a U.S.-British call for a travel ban against Iraq, Russia and France drew their own line in the sand: No more sanctions against Saddam Hussein.

The Russians and the French also want the Security Council to take steps that they hope may speed the day when the 7-year-old sanctions against Baghdad are lifted.The council met behind closed doors Thursday to discuss a U.S.-British resolution declaring "firm intention" to slap a travel ban on Iraqi military and intelligence officers if U.N. weapons inspectors complain that Baghdad is refusing to follow U.N. orders to destroy long-range missiles and mass-destruction weapons.

Council diplomats said it was uncertain when a vote would be taken.

In 1991, the council ordered Iraq to destroy the missiles as well as chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and permit U.N. inspectors to certify complaince. That is the main condition for the council to lift economic sanctions imposed in 1990 when Saddam invaded Kuwait, touching off the gulf war.

Washington and London wanted the 15-member council to impose the ban now, effective April 12, after chief weapons inspector Richard Butler accused Iraq of concealing information on its weaponry and blocking his team.

But the Russians and French, who are negotiating lucrative oil exploration deals with Iraq, refused to support any new sanctions. As permanent council members - along with the United States, Britain and China - each could veto any resolution.

Even if Russia or France abstained, U.S. diplomats feared lack of unanimity would only encourage Saddam to defy the United Nations. U.S. and British diplomats instead asked the council to approve a resolution that expresses the intention to impose the ban unless Iraq cooperates.

The council would also agree to work with the inspectors to draft the names of specific Iraqis to be affected by the ban. "We think that this is an excellent resolution," U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson said.