The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said Wednesday that Russia could play a "vitally important role" in resolving the crises surrounding Iraq and North Korea.

Mohamed ElBaradei, who arrived in Moscow late Tuesday, said he wanted to encourage Russia to use its influence over Iraq to elicit more cooperation with the U.N. weapons inspectors, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

"The application of force should be the last means in the arsenal of measures that can be used to solve problems tied with Iraq and North Korea in the context of nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction," ElBaradei told Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, according to the Interfax news agency.

"I think that Russia can play a vitally important role in the peaceful solution of these problems."

The chief of the U.N. nuclear watchdog also praised Russia's proposed approach to a settlement of the tension over North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

"It is a very good proposal," Interfax quoted him as saying.

Russia's plan calls for guaranteeing the non-nuclear status of the Korean Peninsula, strict adherence to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and to the 1994 agreement under which North Korea froze its nuclear program in return for foreign aid, as well as humanitarian programs and dialogue that should produce security guarantees for North Korea, officials have said.

ElBaradei was scheduled to meet with Russian Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev later Wednesday. ElBaradei is scheduled to travel to Iraq on Sunday with Hans Blix, the chief of the weapons inspectors. They are scheduled to give a preliminary report about the weapons inspections on Jan. 27.

Inspectors resumed work in Iraq on Nov. 27 after a four-year absence. Mark Gwozdecky, an IAEA spokesman, said Sunday that U.N. teams would need about a year to carry out "credible" inspections of Iraq's nuclear program.