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Foreign Minister: Russia Will Vote 'No'

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Monday that Russia would vote against the U.S. and British resolution before the U.N. Security Council giving Saddam Hussein a March 17 deadline to disarm or face war, a news agency reported.

This marks the first time Russia has explicitly said it would vote against the resolution in its current form.

Washington and London, however, have indicated they were willing to consider amending the text, and Ivanov did not say what Russia would do in case of changes.

Because Russia has veto power, a "no" vote would kill the resolution, even if nine of the 15 Security Council members vote for it. France and China also could veto the U.S.-British resolution with a "no" vote.

Russia, unlike Germany and France, has been careful not to damage its relations with the United States over the Iraq crisis. By emphasizing that its objections related to the resolution in its current form, the Kremlin left itself considerable room to change course.

Many analysts have suggested that President Vladimir Putin, whose improved ties with the White House are a major accomplishment of his administration, would not ultimately risk a veto.

"In the course of the latest session of the U.N. Security Council, we did not hear serious arguments for the use of force to solve the Iraqi problem," Ivanov said, according to Interfax.

"Russia believes that no further resolutions of the U.N. Security Council are necessary and therefore Russia openly declares that if the draft resolution that currently has been introduced for consideration and which contains demands in an ultimate form that cannot be met is nonetheless put to a vote then Russia will vote against this resolution," he said, according to Interfax.

Russia has consistently said it opposes any resolution that would automatically trigger the use of military force against Iraq should Saddam fail to comply with U.N. demands that Baghdad destroy its weapons of mass destruction.

Ivanov made the remarks during a ceremony in which he received an honorary doctorate at his alma mater Moscow State Linguistics University.

Asked whether Iraq could withstand a U.S. attack, Ivanov said, "Of course not."

Ivanov added that any such U.S. military action would "lead to victims among the civilian population, to destruction and not to the resolution of those problems for which the U.N. Security Council took the appropriate resolutions."

Russia has called for the continuation of weapons inspections, saying that largely positive reports by the head U.N. weapons inspectors to the Security Council last week have shown that Iraq is cooperating and that progress toward its disarmament is being made.

The Kremlin has warned the United States that it would consider a unilateral attack against Baghdad a mistake and a violation of the U.N. charter.