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U.S. warns Russia of veto fallout

With Russia threatening to veto U.N. Security Council approval of a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, American officials are warning Moscow that its role as an economic player in a postwar Iraq is at stake, as are the billions of dollars that Russia already has invested there.

Cooperation between Russia and the United States could also suffer on several fronts, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow said in comments published Wednesday in the Russian newspaper Izvestia. He mentioned as examples American investment in Russia's energy market, space exploration and the international fight against terrorism.

It was a blunt assessment of what Russia faces if it uses its veto, and one that struck at the core of what drives Russian foreign policy: bottom-line economics. Vershbow's remarks also emphasized the crucial demarcation between vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing war in Iraq and merely abstaining from the vote.

Amid the growing tensions, President Vladimir Putin and President Bush talked by telephone Wednesday, the Kremlin press service said. Bush placed the call.

Putin and Bush "underlined the fundamental significance of supporting and developing positive strategic perspectives in Russian-American relations," a press service statement said.

Analysts say Russia's steadfast refusal to fall in line with the United States, Spain and Britain is fueled by Moscow's belief that weeks of talks have produced no guarantees from the United States about its role in a postwar Iraq, as well as Moscow's perception that its post-Sept. 11 friendship with the United States has yielded little in the way of tangible economic benefits.

Also . . .

MEXICAN PRESIDENT'S SURGERY: Emergency surgery Wednesday to repair President Vicente Fox's back hernia was successful, and he will be able to decide how Mexico will vote in the U.N. Security Council on a British proposal that could lead to war with Iraq, officials said.

After the operation, which lasted 3 hours and 20 minutes, presidential spokesman Ricardo Elizondo told reporters the president remained in charge of the nation and would make all necessary decisions. Fox later appeared on television in a taped broadcast, but gave little indication of how Mexico would vote.

CLINTON'S VIEW: Former President Bill Clinton, who has generally supported the Bush administration's Iraq policy in recent remarks, called on his successor Wednesday to accept a more relaxed timeline in exchange for support from a majority of the United Nations Security Council members.

Clinton's speech to a meeting of union leaders in Washington, appeared to be the first time the former president has publicly espoused an approach substantially different from the administration's.

Clinton endorsed a move by Great Britain to have chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix set out specific benchmarks that Hussein must meet to prove he is disarming. While being careful to say that he feels President Bush is sincere in his pursuit of U.N. support, Clinton said: "The question is, do they want the support bad enough to let Mr. Blix finish his work and give enough time to do that?"

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