Two top Russian diplomats yesterday reiterated Moscow’s call for a reshuffling of personnel on UN weapons inspection teams in Iraq so as to lessen the proportion of Americans and Britons. Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, speaking in Sweden, said that greater balance was needed on the inspection teams and that other countries, including France, Germany, and Russia, should play a more active role. The same message was conveyed in Moscow by Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady Tarasov. He repeated to reporters an earlier Russian announcement that Moscow had submitted a list of 60 experts for consideration by Richard Butler, head of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) charged with eliminating Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.
Tarasov also restated a proposal that Russian aircraft be used along with planes from other countries to aid the UN’s weapons inspection efforts in Iraq. That offer was first made by Russian defense minister Igor Sergeev during a visit to France last week. The French government approved the proposal, and has also offered several of its own experts for consideration by UNSCOM. Reconnaissance flights over Iraq are currently performed by U.S. aircraft alone. (The Washington Post, January 16; Russian agencies, UPI, January 20)
Moscow’s moves come amid the latest crisis between Iraq and the UN over inspections. On January 17, Iraqi president Saddam Hussein threatened to expel all UN inspectors from Iraq in six months if the weapons inspections are not brought to a close and sanctions on Iraq lifted. Hussein also called for talks on resolving the current impasse between Iraq and the UN that would circumvent the U.S. (The New York Times, January 18) Washington has taken the hardest line on ensuring Iraqi compliance with UN resolutions, and has sought to include a military option among the alternatives available to the UN in dealing with Baghdad’s intransigence.
Russia and France, which maintain close economic and political ties to Baghdad, have opposed the launching of any U.S. military strikes on Iraq. The latest proposals from Moscow and Paris on inspection personnel and surveillance aircraft reflect demands issued by the Iraqi authorities themselves. Richard Butler flew to Baghdad yesterday for talks aimed at easing the crisis. Upon his arrival he suggested that UNSCOM might consider the proposals to lessen the number of Americans on the weapons inspection teams. (The New York Times, January 20)
Luzhkov Tipped as Russia’s Next President.