WASHINGTON - Russia is leaving the door slightly open to compromise as the Bush administration insists on a new U.N. resolution to threaten Iraq with war if it does not disarm.
Russia's decision could turn on whether it gets new and convincing evidence that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is building up stockpiles of dangerous weapons.
Talks will continue at the United Nations, where the United States and Britain are trying to overcome resistance from Russia, China and France to leveling new demands without proof.
A defiant Iraq meanwhile announced Saturday that Baghdad would reject any new U.N. resolutions Saddam's government believes are unfavorable.
"The American officials are trying ... to issue new, bad resolutions from the Security Council," Iraq's state-run radio said.
No one was available at the White House early Saturday to comment immediately on Baghdad's announcement.
President George W. Bush appealed directly Friday to a reluctant Russian President Vladimir Putin to back a new resolution.
But despite good relations and cooperation against terrorism, Russia held to its view that threats should be deferred at least until U.N. weapons inspectors take up Saddam's offer to allow a resumption of searches after nearly four years.
Bush gave no sign of giving ground in the diplomatic skirmish, while Russian ministers who called on him at the White House hinted there may be room for compromise.
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said he was willing to explore any evidence that Saddam was pursuing a dangerous weapons program. "Moscow's position regarding a military operation against Iraq will depend on the information given us by the American side," he said.
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, speaking at the National Press Club, said that after some 7,000 U.N. inspections it was determined Iraq's nuclear and chemical weapons programs had been dismantled. "Only the question of biological weapons remains open," he said.
He also rejected the Bush administration's drive to depose the Iraqi president as a strategy to strip Iraq of weapons.
"If different countries will be acting on their own, we will be hardly able to bring about effective and lasting solutions to this problem," the foreign minister said.
After two rounds of talks at the State Department, interspersed by the Bush meeting, the Russian defense and foreign ministers left without an agreement except to keep talking.
As Iraq's biggest trading partner, Russia fears a war not only would intensify instability in the Middle East but also jeopardize its economic interests in Iraq, which owes Moscow dlrs 7 billion in Soviet-era debt. Russian companies are helping rebuild Iraq's oil infrastructure and are positioned to reap significant benefits in the future.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said the U.S. and Russian ambassadors to the United Nations would resume their discussions. "We are going to try to move forward together," he said.
Powell said the two sides recommitted themselves to finding a way to get Iraq to comply with more than a decade of Security Council resolutions. They call for international inspection of suspect sites and disarmament.
The administration is adding to these demands that Ira Qcease support for terrorists, halt mistreatment of its citizens and stop illicit trade practices.
"I think they are open to hear our arguments and we are open to hear their arguments," Powell said. Reports of a split between Russia and the United States on Ira Qexaggerate the differences, he said.
On Capitol Hill, Bush's request for a congressional resolution to authorize the use of force against Iraq was still drawing a mixed reception.
Sen. Robert C. Byrd criticized Bush's approach and said "we must not be hell-bent on an invasion until we have exhausted other possible options to assess and eliminate Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction program."
"We must not act alone," he said. "We must have the support of the world."
"What we need is solid evidence. What we need are answers," the senior Democrat said.
But Sen. Joseph Lieberman said there was now broad support among Democrats for Bush's resolution. "We feel that the president should be authorized to take military action (without) the U.N. if the U.N. will not do it," he said.