MOSCOW – Secretary of State Colin Powell told Russia's state-controlled television that the United States was prepared to lead a war against Iraq with or without the consent of the United Nations.
The interview, broadcast on Channel One television late Tuesday, appeared to be part of a U.S. attempt to get its message straight to the Russian public as a possible vote on a new U.N. Security Council resolution nears.
The United States and Britain are pushing a resolution that would open the way to military action, while Russia has joined France and Germany in insisting that weapons inspectors be given more time to complete their work.
According to a State Department transcript of the interview on ORT television, Powell explained that Russia and the United States were divided over both the usefulness of further weapons inspections and the scale of the threat Iraq poses to the world.
Powell said that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein "must be disarmed ... and he will be disarmed — peacefully, hopefully, but if necessary, the United States is prepared to lead a coalition of the willing, a coalition of willing nations, either under U.N. authority or without U.N. authority, if that turns out to be the case, in order to disarm this man."
The interview was broadcast as Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was shuttling between European capitals to discuss the Iraq crisis. On Tuesday, he met in London with British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, and he conferred early Wednesday with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Later Wednesday, Ivanov met in Paris with French President Jacques Chirac, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.
Meanwhile, the U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Alexander Vershbow, met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov in talks on how to deal with the Iraq crisis, the Russian Foreign Ministry said. The ministry said the ambassador had made an "urgent request" for the meeting.
The ministry said in a statement that despite the two countries' differences, "the Iraqi problem should not have a restraining or worse, a negative influence on the general development of the Russian-American partnership."
Russia has been walking a fine line in the Iraqi crisis, opposing moves toward war but taking pains to avoid a falling-out with Washington after carefully cultivating bilateral ties.