Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 219

Russia’s Foreign Ministry yesterday criticized Britain–and by extension the United States–for “issuing calls for a change of the Iraqi regime using force.” The admonitions from Moscow came during a press briefing by Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin. The Russian spokesman also spoke of the need to “respect the sovereignty and political independence of Iraq,” and warned that internal political issues there should “be decided only by the Iraqi people.” Apparently speaking in the same vein, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov yesterday reportedly urged all sides in the present Persian Gulf crisis to “act constructively” and to avoid exacerbating the situation in Iraq. Ivanov held talks yesterday in Moscow with a top Iraqi official (UPI, Russian agencies, November 24).

Rakhmanin and Ivanov each also called yesterday for Iraq to cooperate fully with UN weapons inspectors. In their remarks to the press, however, neither apparently commented specifically on the latest conflict to erupt between Baghdad and the inspectors: Iraq’s refusal to turn over several documents related to its prohibited weapons program. On November 22 Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz accused Richard Butler–head of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) investigating Iraq’s weapons programs–of deliberately fanning tensions with Iraq over the documents. An Iraqi UN official, meanwhile, intimated that Baghdad would try an end run around UNSCOM by getting the UN Secretary General and the Security Council more involved in the issue (Washington Post, November 23). Moscow has been sympathetic to such Iraqi tactics in the past.

Yesterday’s remarks by the Russian diplomats followed a suggestion, made a day earlier by a top British Foreign Office official, that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein should face trial by an international tribunal for war crimes. The British official also called on Iraqi opposition forces to unite and to overthrow Saddam. Washington has likewise moved in recent weeks to support Iraqi opposition groups and has called openly for the overthrow of the Iraqi leader. On November 17 Russia’s Foreign Ministry criticized the United States for those policies and, as it did yesterday, reiterated the importance of respecting Iraq’s sovereignty (Russian agencies, November 17).