Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, in Greece on an official visit, repeated Moscow’s call yesterday for UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to visit Baghdad in a last ditch effort to avert military strikes on Iraq by U.S. and British aircraft. Primakov argued that the use of force against Iraq could have "very serious negative consequences." He spoke of a "growing feeling in support of a visit" by Annan. Baghdad could, Primakov said, be persuaded to give UN inspectors full access to disputed "presidential sites" in Iraq. A diplomatic solution to the crisis, he continued, is "achievable," but the "international community must be prepared to give some guarantees [to Baghdad] in return." (Reuter, Russian agencies, February 16)
Primakov’s remarks dovetailed with a broader international push for Annan to visit Baghdad and indications from the Secretary General’s office that he is considering a visit later this week. In Paris, French President Jacques Chirac said yesterday that a diplomatic solution to the crisis is "technically" close at hand. Diplomatic sources suggested, meanwhile, that Annan could meet on Wednesday in the French capital with Iraq’s foreign minister. That meeting, and a subsequent trip to Baghdad, reportedly hinge on assurances from Iraq that it will accept unlimited UN inspection of the disputed presidential sites. Among the permanent UN Security Council members, the United States is said to be holding out for the most ironclad assurances from Iraq before agreeing to Annan’s Baghdad mission. (Reuter, February 17)
Primakov did not indicate in his remarks yesterday what sort of "guarantees" Iraq might expected to receive in return for allowing a resumption of inspections. Moscow has previously embraced Baghdad’s call for a reduction in the number of Americans and Britons on the UN inspection teams, and for participation of Russian aircraft in UN overflights of Iraq. In general, Iraqi authorities have portrayed the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) as an enemy of Baghdad, and have sought to undermine its authority in administering the UN inspection efforts. Moscow has shown sympathy for that view. The United States has strongly supported UNSCOM.
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