Diplomatic activity around the globe on the Iraq-UN controversy continued at a furious pace yesterday, but no resultant easing in the latest confrontation is evident. Russian deputy foreign minister Viktor Posuvalyuk, in Baghdad on the orders of President Yeltsin, met with Iraqi president Saddam Hussein yesterday. Few details were available on the meeting. Having held talks with Iraqi deputy prime minister Tareq Aziz the night before, Posuvalyuk reportedly handed the Iraqi president a letter from Yeltsin and reiterated Russia’s opposition to the use of force against Iraq. Saddam reportedly praised Russia’s effort to resolve the latest crisis. Russian sources were closed-mouthed about the specifics of Yeltsin’s proposal. They suggested, however, that the special Middle Eastern envoy had been empowered to negotiate a settlement and that he might remain in Baghdad until some sort of breakthrough was achieved. (Xinhua, Russian agencies, January 28)
Speaking to reporters in Paris yesterday, Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov repeated Moscow’s demand for a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Of perhaps greater import, he urged Baghdad to end its defiance of UN weapons inspectors and called for UNSCOM — the UN Special Commission overseeing the inspections — to do its work more effectively. (Itar-Tass, January 28) Those last remarks suggest two things. First, Moscow is probably pressuring Iraqi authorities to grant UN inspectors access to the so-called "presidential sites," one of the key issues precipitating the latest confrontation. Second, Moscow may be offering, in return, to back a package of Iraqi demands that includes:
— changes in the composition of the weapons inspection teams to reduce the number of Americans and Britons;
— an end to the U.S. monopoly on overflights of Iraq (and the assumption by Russia of at least some of those responsibilities);
— and the closing by UNSCOM of certain of its files on Iraqi weaponry.
The last would open the door to so-called "long-term monitoring" of Iraq by the UN — a process less intrusive than the current weapons inspections.
Yesterday’s events came as the Clinton Administration signaled that it is closer to launching military strikes against Iraq — unilaterally if necessary — if Baghdad’s defiance of the weapons inspectors continues. That message was conveyed both in the president’s State of the Union message on January 27, and in the aftermath of a telephone conversation between Clinton and British prime minister Tony Blair the same day. The U.S. Congress in recent days has also clearly indicated its own readiness to back any military reprisals decided on by the White House. (International agencies, January 27-28)
In an effort to rally international support for a strong response to Iraq, U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright is to confer with her French, British, and Russian counterparts over the next several days. Russian sources have noted that Albright’s meeting with Primakov — expected to occur tomorrow in Madrid — came at the behest of the United States. (The Washington Post, January 28) The Kremlin’s decision to dispatch Posuvalyuk was greeted with great enthusiasm in Moscow. The Russian side is unlikely to budge from its insistence that the world community’s response to Iraq be limited to a diplomatic one.
Moscow Continues to Court Europe.