Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov announced yesterday that Moscow had drafted a plan aimed at bringing to an end the crisis between Iraq and the UN. The announcement followed an unscheduled visit to Moscow by Iraqi deputy prime minister Tareq Aziz and meetings between the Iranian official and both Primakov and Russian president Boris Yeltsin. "As a result of these talks, a specific program has been worked out which… allows us to avoid military confrontation and the use of military methods, and to move toward liquidating this crisis, of course with Iraq fulfilling the corresponding UN Security Council resolutions," Primakov declared. Another top Russian Foreign Ministry official, Gennady Tarasov, said that "Iraq should see the light at the end of the tunnel" — a reference to the argument long advanced by Moscow and Baghdad that Iraq’s compliance with UN resolutions should lead to a gradual lifting of the sanctions imposed on Iraq after the Gulf War. (Reuter, November 18)
Yesterday’s announcement placed Moscow at the center of intense diplomatic maneuvering aimed at resolving the crisis in Iraq, but Primakov provided no details as to the substance of the Russian plan. U.S. officials reacted with some skepticism to the initiative. White House press secretary Michael McCurry said that "everyone is in the dark at this point," while President Bill Clinton’s national security advisor, Samuel Berger, was quoted as saying that "at this point, [I] could not say to you that I see the basis of a diplomatic resolution." The U.S., meanwhile, continued its dual policy of reinforcing its military might in the region while also signaling a readiness to move with some flexibility on the diplomatic front. The White House yesterday approved deployment of additional U.S. war planes to the Persian Gulf and, despite Iraqi threats to shoot it down, sent a U-2 spy plane over Iraq. Clinton administration officials simultaneously reiterated Washington’s willingness both to allow Iraq to sell more of its oil on world markets, in order to purchase humanitarian goods, and to reduce the presence of Americans on the UN weapons inspection team in Iraq. (Russian and Western agencies, November 18; The Washington Post, November 19)
It was unclear yesterday how the leading players in the Iraq crisis would proceed on the Russian plan. Sources in Moscow indicated that Primakov would fly to Geneva today (en route to South America for a long-planned official visit), where he was expected to meet with his British, French, and U.S. counterparts. But the White House indicated yesterday that U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright would not attend the Geneva meeting, and there was also some question as to the availability of the other proposed participants. Meanwhile, the Kremlin’s chief spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, said earlier today in Moscow that Primakov would not reveal the details of his peace plan until he is able "to synchronize watches with some of his colleagues in Geneva." Primakov also planned today to consult by telephone with Chinese foreign minister Qian Qichen. (Itar-Tass, November 18)
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