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Russian shuttle diplomacy prompted an offer from Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to recognize Kuwait's sovereign status -- but only if the U.N. promises to ease its tough embargo on Iraqi oil sales within six months. The proposal surfaced in a joint statement between the two countries, largely crafted by Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, who had flown to Baghdad to try to defuse the crisis. Russia -- close to Iraq since Baghdad's days as a Soviet client but skittish over the troop sallies toward Kuwait -- said it would support a six-month test period for U.N. monitors to ensure that Iraq doesn't rebuild its weapons of mass destruction. If all goes well, Russia says, the U.S. and U.N. should lift the oil sanctions. BTW: The U.S., which hadn't responded formally by early this evening, faces enormous pressure from France to cut such a deal; Paris savors the chance to renew its old and lucrative oil ties with Baghdad.