Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 22

Russian diplomats were left red-faced yesterday when authorities in Baghdad flatly denied a claim that Moscow had engineered a breakthrough in the Persian Gulf crisis. The denial was delivered to journalists by Iraqi Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs Riyadh al-Qaysi and came in the wake of reports out of Moscow that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had agreed to allow UN weapons inspectors limited access to eight presidential sites in Iraq. Saddam also reportedly agreed to meet with chief UN weapons inspector Richard Butler. According to Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the "compromise" had been reached during talks in Baghdad between the Iraqi leader and Russia’s special envoy to the region, Viktor Posuvalyuk. It was unclear how the Russian and Iraqi sides could have come to such thoroughly different interpretations of the meeting. Al-Qaysi said that the arrangement reported in Moscow had not been discussed at all in Baghdad. (AP, Reuter, Russian agencies, February 2)

Even prior to al-Qaysi’s denial, however, U.S. officials had shown little enthusiasm for the terms said to have been agreed upon by Iraqi leaders. The United States and several others in the international community insist that Saddam meet his obligations to the UN fully by allowing weapons inspectors unlimited access to Iraqi facilities. Leaders in Baghdad have precipitated the latest crisis in part by placing more than fifty sites, including about forty presidential palaces, off limit to the inspectors. The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Bill Richardson, called the announced compromise "unacceptable," and said that it is "not up to Saddam to define the eight presidential sites and impose conditions." According to Yastrzhembsky, the proposal carried to Saddam by Posuvalyuk had included a call for unlimited access by the UN inspectors. (AP, Itar-Tass, February 2)

Yesterday’s events came against a background of frantic diplomatic activity on a number of fronts, all connected with the standoff between Iraq and the UN. The dispatch of Posuvalyuk to Iraq was part of a broader effort by Russia, France, Turkey and some Arab countries to head off military strikes against Iraq by convincing Baghdad to comply with UN demands. A French envoy is to follow Posuvalyuk to Iraq, while Turkey’s foreign minister and a mission from the Arab League are also expected to arrive in the Iraqi capital this week. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, meanwhile, was in Saudi Arabia yesterday on a trek through the Middle East with the goal of winning support for possible military strikes on Iraq. (The New York Times, UPI, February 2)

Nor was the Kremlin, which is keen to maintain a high-profile role in the Iraq crisis, focusing only on its diplomatic mission in Baghdad. Russian President Boris Yeltsin called his U.S. counterpart to brief him on Posuvalyuk’s mission. Among other things, he reportedly told President Clinton that Saddam Hussein may grow more flexible in his dealings with the UN. Yeltsin also spoke by telephone yesterday with French President Jacques Chirac. According to Yastrzhembsky, the two agreed that diplomatic methods should be used to move Iraq toward compliance with UN resolutions. (UPI, AP, February 2) Finally, the leader of Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party, the ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, called yesterday for the convening today of a special Duma session to discuss Iraq. He also announced that a parliamentary delegation would visit Iraq on February 8. (Russian agencies, February 2) Russia’s Communists and nationalists — and many others across the political spectrum — favor close ties with Baghdad and have applauded the Kremlin’s aggressive pro-Iraqi approach to the current standoff.

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