Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 34

In remarks that reflect the uneasiness of many U.S. allies and other governments with the latest turn in the Bush administration’s antiterror policy, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Russian President Vladimir Putin used a meeting in Moscow last week to state their joint opposition to any U.S. move against Iraq. The Canadian premier, who arrived in Moscow at the head of a 300-strong delegation of Canadian government and business leaders, drew a sharp distinction between U.S. military actions in Afghanistan–which both Ottawa and Moscow have supported–and those threatened against Iraq.

The premier’s statements underlined the proximity of Canada’s and Russia’s official views on the issue. Each suggested that Washington lacks the necessary proof (linking Iraq to the September 11 attacks) to justify actions against Baghdad. Chretien openly disputed the notion that concerns related to Iraqi weapons programs could serve as justification for accusing Baghdad of terrorism. Since U.S. President George W. Bush’s January 29 State-of-the-Union address, officials in Washington have cited Baghdad’s efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction as a reason to target Iraq. Russia and a host of U.S. allies have criticized the threat against Iraq and the broader policy that underlies it, which is that Iraq, Iran and North Korea represent an “axis of evil” whose weapons development programs and links to terrorism represent a threat to America and the world.

Allied criticism in this area, moreover, seems likely to grow stronger in the coming days. On arriving in Berlin yesterday from Moscow, Chretien restated Canada’s position, and is expected to discuss it today when he holds talks with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer sharply criticized the United States last week, evoking comparisons with the Soviet Union’s treatment of its East Bloc minions by accusing Washington of treating its own coalition partners like “satellites.” And Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov is expected to raise the issue of Iraq when he travels to France later this week for talks with French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, another of the European officials who have criticized Washington for its antiterror policies. Among the key themes likely to be broached in these upcoming talks is one Putin and Chretien stressed in Moscow: namely, that Washington needs to work with the rest of the world community, preferably under the auspices of the United Nations, as it moves into the second phase of its antiterror campaign. Bush administration officials have already said publicly, however, that the United States is prepared to move against Iraq unilaterally if other nations choose not to offer their support.

Another security theme discussed in Moscow last week, one that received less press attention but that also appeared to signal some commonality of views between Canada and Russia, was missile defense. In an interview given to the Russian daily Kommersant, Chretien took a largely noncommittal position on U.S. missile defense plans, saying only that Washington and Ottawa were continuing to consult on the matter. But Chretien did mention continuing Canadian opposition to militarizing space, and a Russian-Canadian “joint actions plan” approved by Chretien and Putin on February 14 made the same point more formally. Inclusion of the reference, clearly intended to signify opposition to U.S. missile defense plans, was presumably seen by Moscow as a small diplomatic triumph (Interfax, February 13-14; AP, Reuters, February 14).