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Russia takes positive view on U.S. draft resolution on Iraq

MOSCOW — Russia's foreign minister gave cautious approval today to a U.S.-drafted resolution for a greater role for the United Nations in Iraq, saying Moscow wouldn't mind U.S. leadership in a broader international peacekeeping force.

"Preliminarily speaking, I can say that this initiative deserves attention since the content of the proposed resolution reflects those principles which Russia has consistently championed," Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said during a trip to Uzbekistan, according to the Interfax and ITAR-Tass news agencies.

Russia — who could veto the resolution as one of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — joins Britain in supporting the draft. France has criticized the resolution; China said today it was studying it.

Ivanov reaffirmed Russia's push for a quick restoration of Iraq's sovereignty and added that the draft will need more work to win Security Council approval.

"The American draft sets a general movement toward those principles, and serious work needs to be done so that they are fully reflected" in the final version, he said.

The U.S. draft offers the United Nations a larger role in governing Iraq, preparing for elections and peacekeeping, although American commanders will retain control. Washington said it wanted a quick vote on the proposed resolution, but France and Germany have responded coolly to the draft, saying it falls short by not granting responsibility to Iraqis or a large enough role to the United Nations.

Ivanov's statement came one day after the Russian defense minister said Moscow might send peacekeepers to Iraq as part of an international force — a strong signal Moscow was edging closer to Washington in efforts to rebuild Iraq.

Ivanov said today that Moscow is not yet considering "in practical terms" a troop deployment to Iraq, since a new U.N. peacekeeping force for Iraq is yet to be formed.

"Russia has no allergy to the United States leading such force on condition their activities are conducted under the U.N. mandate," he said.

Friendly statements from Moscow, which come ahead of President Vladimir Putin's trip to the United States later this month, appear to indicate the Kremlin's desire to heal a rift caused by Russia's strong criticism of the war in Iraq.

But Ivanov reaffirmed Moscow's view that Iraq war was a mistake and derided statements by U.S. officials that the situation in Iraq was improving.

"The situation in Iraq is not improving day by day, it's becoming worse day by day, and this is exactly what makes it necessary to pass a new U.N. resolution," he said.

Russia's cautious support for the U.S. draft contrasted sharply with outspoken criticism Thursday from France and Germany.

French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder demanded that Washington give the United Nations more influence in Iraq's political future — a stance that threatened to trigger a new round of trans-Atlantic controversy after harsh criticism of the war by France and Germany.

But both French and German officials reiterated that their countries were ready to work with the United States.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin was quoted as saying in today's edition of Le Figaro that France "absolutely" intends to cooperate with Washington to find consensus on a U.N. resolution.

"We are entering this new stage in a constructive and open spirit," he told the newspaper.

In Berlin, Schroeder spokesman Bela Anda said today "it is good that the United States has launched such an initiative." He reiterated that the U.S. draft failed to take up all the suggestions by Schroeder, Chirac and other non-U.S. leaders.

China's Foreign Ministry called today for a new resolution on Iraq, and said its diplomats were studying the U.S. draft.

The United Nations must play an essential role in improving security in Iraq, reinstating its sovereignty and speeding up its rebuilding, Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency.

China opposed the U.S.-led war but was relatively mild in its criticism.

Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham said in Kabul, Afghanistan, that his country is "not contemplating sending troops to Iraq," although Canada favors a large international coalition there.

Canada, whose forces make up the bulk of the 5,000-strong NATO-led force patrolling the Afghan capital, also will limit its involvement in Afghanistan to one year, he said.

Denmark will keep its 400 troops in Iraq "until the situation is more stable," Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said today in Bulgaria.