Russia said Tuesday that time has not run out for resolving the crisis over Iraq by diplomatic means.
"Moscow still believes there is no reason to claim that political and diplomatic settlement of the situation involving Iraq is without prospect and that the time for diplomacy is over,"Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.
This was Russia's first official reaction to a speech by US President George W. Bush late Monday in which he gave Iraqi President Saddam Hussein 48 hours to leave the country or face war.
Russia has repeatedly urged peaceful settlement of the Iraq issue and opposes the use of force against Iraq.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday that a war againstIraq would be a mistake that could undermine international security and stability as a whole.
Yakovenko said Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was going to New York to attend a UN Security Council meeting, in which several foreign ministers will discuss the latest developments in Iraq.
"It will be an important session that will analyze the work of the inspectors of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and define the remaining disarmament tasks," Yakovenko said.
"It follows from the report delivered by UNMOVIC head Hans Blixthat much has been done in the sphere and it is important to confirm the key role of the United Nations in resolving the Iraq problem," he stressed.
Russia's Deputy Security Council Secretary Oleg Chernov expressed Tuesday his country's determination to do all it can to return the situation to a peaceful path if a war starts in Iraq.
"The world, including Russia and other interested countries, must do everything necessary to seek a path that returns the situation around Iraq to a peaceful channel," Chernov told Interfax.
Earlier on Tuesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov said that 25 Russian diplomats were still working in the Russian Embassy in Baghdad and that the embassy was operating as usual despite a possible war after Bush's ultimatum to Iraq.
"In an emergency situation, Russians, who are still in Iraq, will leave the country either by plane or by land through neighboring Iran or other countries," said Saltanov.