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MOSCOW (AP) -- A U.S. official came to Moscow Thursday to seek support for ending economic sanctions against Iraq, which Russia has said cannot be lifted until it is clear the country has no weapons of mass destruction.
Assistant Secretary of State Kim Holmes had an unscheduled meeting with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov after talks with Russia's diplomatic point man on Iraq, Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov. Holmes was to travel to Germany later in the day on a similar mission.
The United States wants the sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait lifted quickly and is expected to present a draft U.N. Security Council resolution on their removal in the coming days.
President Vladimir Putin said last week that the sanctions cannot be ended until it is clear Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction.
Fedotov reiterated that stance, with the Interfax news agency quoting him as saying the sanctions can be lifted only on the basis of existing Security Council resolutions.
Under those resolutions, U.N. inspectors must certify that Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs have been eliminated along with the long-range missiles to deliver them before sanctions could be lifted.
On Wednesday, Fedotov said it would take time to develop a procedure for lifting the sanctions and that for now Russia favors a "temporary solution" involving suspending sanctions on goods including food and medicine.
Ivanov struck a more conciliatory note Thursday, saying Russia supports suspending or lifting "all sanctions that hinder or limit the resolution of humanitarian problems in Iraq."
"There is no reason for the Iraqi people, who have suffered from sanctions for 11 years, to continue to suffer from them today," Interfax quoted him as saying after a meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.
Last week, Putin called for the return of U.N. weapons inspectors who were in Iraq before the war. The United States has deployed its own inspection teams and does not want U.N. inspectors to return any time soon.
For years, Russia sought the removal of the sanctions as Iraq's main ally in the Security Council, hoping to regain more than $8 billion in Iraqi debt and reap the economic benefits of its diplomatic support.
But since the war, which it opposed, Russia has tried to use its status as a veto-wielding council member to steer control over the situation in Iraq back to the United Nations.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)