Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 152

Russia called yesterday for Iraq to fulfill UN Security Council resolutions and “to continue constructive cooperation with the UN special commission for disarming Iraq without making ultimatums.” A Russian Foreign Ministry statement also expressed what it said was Moscow’s “serious concern over the new worsening of relations” between Baghdad and UNSCOM, the UN special commission overseeing Iraq’s disarmament. (Russian agencies, August 6) The Russian statements follow the breakdown of talks between Iraq and UNSCOM earlier this week and Baghdad’s decision on August 5 to end its cooperation with UN weapons inspectors. Iraqi leaders have also effectively called for the dismissal of UNSCOM chief Richard Butler by demanding that his commission be restructured. Yesterday, Iraq aggravated its relations with the UN still further by stopping a group of UN inspectors from carrying out their tasks.

In an official statement adopted yesterday, the UN Security Council called Iraq’s decision to freeze its cooperation with UN weapons inspectors “totally unacceptable.” That statement followed a closed session of the council during which Butler briefed council members on the breakdown of talks in Baghdad. Afterward, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appeared to back Butler. But the UN chief, who brokered a deal that eased a worsening conflict between Iraq and the UN this past February, also advised a policy aimed at assuaging Iraq’s anger. Annan said that “it might be helpful to engage the Iraqis much more closely.” His conciliatory position seemed to be in line with a hint from the Security Council that it would consider lifting some sanctions on Iraq, despite Baghdad’s behavior this week. The council’s statement said that it “intends to respond favorably to future progress made in the disarmament process.”

Russia, with backing from France and China, has been the foremost advocate on the Security Council of a softer line toward Baghdad. Last month, Russia backed efforts by Iraq to get the UN and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to shift to a less intrusive form of long-term weapons monitoring. The move was headed off the by the United States, which, together with Britain, has consistently called for the Security Council to take a harder line toward Iraqi transgressions. (AP, Reuter, New York Times, August 6)

Russia’s deputy representative to the Security Council, Yuri Fedotov, on August 5 made clear that Moscow was holding Butler at least partially responsible for the breakdown of talks in Baghdad. Fedotov said that Russia was “strongly convinced that Iraq is not the only one to blame for this situation.” The decision to break off discussions, he said, “was taken by the chairman of UNSCOM [Butler] without duly consulting the Secretary-General and the Security Council.” Fedotov’s remarks suggest that Iraq, by confronting the UN anew, has managed to sharpen divisions on the Security Council. The remarks also suggest that Moscow remains sympathetic to Iraqi calls for changes in UNSCOM. Baghdad has long charged that the UN commission is dominated by the U.S. and that it should be restructured in order to reduce Washington’s influence.