WASHINGTON – While Moscow has said it wants more time for inspections to work in Iraq, a Russian lawmaker visiting Capitol Hill Wednesday said that doesn't mean the country would object to a U.S.-backed resolution authorizing force.
Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the Russian Parliament's upper house, defended the need to give weapons inspectors more time, a position France and Germany hold, but he said he doubts the Russian ambassador to the United Nations would cast Russia's veto power in the Security Council.
"I dont think it," Margelov told the House International Relations Committee, referring to Russia's use of the veto power.
France, China, the United Kingdom and the United States all have veto power on the council. Any of the permanent members could choose to abstain if they can't support the resolution.
Margelov said he would like to see diplomatic options exhausted before military action is taken, and suggested the United States lay out plans for a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq before any invasion.
"If we don't preserve the territorial integrity of Iraq, the whole region can explode," he said.
News of Russia's moderate stance satisfied committee member Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., who said that he was "convinced there will not be a Russian veto" of the U.S.- and U.K.-sponsored resolution.
Lantos returned from Russia on Tuesday, where he met with Russian officials about Russia's veto power, its relationship with Baghdad and its sale of nuclear materials to Iran.
Those topics all came up at the hearing with Margelov. Lantos said he is not satisfied with explanations about Russian nuclear assistance to Iran, which Margelov said was motivated by economic interests. Margelov argued that it cooperated with Iran only because it wants nuclear power for peaceful purposes.
That contention did not sit well with Lantos.
"It is way beyond a germinal stage," Lantos said of Iran's nuclear program.
Margelov also tried to explain a secretive recent mission to Baghdad by former Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov. Primakov's trip was meant to apply pressure on Saddam to comply with international inspectors, Margelov said.
He denied that Primakov was offering Saddam a chance to go into exile.
"I don't think that in going to Baghdad, Primakov wanted to save Saddam — not at all," Margelov said in a brief interview after the hearing.
Primakov, a top member of the communist elite in the Soviet Union, went to Baghdad on a similar mission in 1991, before the Persian Gulf War.
Margelov suggested that this time around, Primakov was indicating to both Saddam and Russian communists at home that President Vladimir Putin "has exhausted all peaceful opportunities to resolve this crisis."
That would be preferable to the United States, whose relationship with Russia is being tested by the Iraq standoff.
Russia's Iran and Iraq policies are "major impediments to good relations between our two countries," committee chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., told Margelov.
Iran, Iraq and North Korea are all part of President Bush's "axis of evil" and have continued to cause headaches for the White House.
But Margelov warned that oversimplifying the situation by lumping the three into one big mass could become a problem.
"Simplification can be a serious sin when long-term decisions are at stake," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.