Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 19

UN policy toward Iraq–an issue that had sharply divided Moscow and Washington prior to the events of September 11–reemerged as a point of possible contention with a three-day visit to Moscow last week by Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz. Although few details of Aziz’s consultations were made public, reports out of Moscow indicated that he had come primarily to secure Russia’s continued opposition to a U.S.-British proposal aimed at recasting the existing UN sanctions regime on Iraq. Aziz appears also to have sought a public condemnation by Moscow of recent U.S. threats to take military action against Iraq, either as a means to force Baghdad to accept the return of UN weapons inspectors or as part of Washington’s broader war against international terrorism. It was no coincidence that Aziz arrived in Moscow less than two weeks before U.S. and Russian negotiators are themselves set to hold a new round of consultations over the so-called British-U.S. “smart sanctions” plan. Those talks will take place in Geneva on February 6-8.

In declaratory terms, Aziz appears to have gotten much of what he wanted in the Russian capital. Following talks between Aziz and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on January 24, Ivanov repeated long-standing Russian demands that the sanctions imposed upon Iraq by the UN following its 1990 invasion of Kuwait be lifted. Ivanov also restated Moscow’s opposition to possible U.S. military actions against Iraq. He told reporters that Moscow views as “unacceptable” what he described as a “mechanical spreading of the antiterrorist operation to any country, including Iraq.” Ivanov charged that U.S. actions in this area “would not only weaken the antiterrorist coalition, but also help extremist forces which want to ruin this coalition.” In this same context, Ivanov also repeated long-standing Russian demands that greater control over the antiterror war be vested in the UN Security Council.

How much Aziz got from Moscow in substantive terms is more difficult to say. Russian reports prior to his arrival had suggested that a meeting between Aziz and President Vladimir Putin might be in the offing, but only if substantial progress were made in the talks between Russian officials and the Iraqi delegation. In the end, no such meeting took place, and Russian sources noted that Aziz’s talks were relegated to the “ministerial” level. At the same time, an official from Aziz’s delegation told reporters on January 27 that Aziz plans to return to Moscow later this week for another two days of consultations with Russian officials, which suggests that last week’s talks did produce some results. Aziz traveled from Moscow on to Beijing over the weekend, where he reportedly intended to make his case before the Chinese leadership. China, along with France, has often joined Russia over the past several years in defending Baghdad during Security Council deliberations related to Iraq policy. China and France split from Russia, however, and lined up behind Washington and London late last year on the smart sanctions issue.