Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 9

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed yesterday that Moscow has stated its strong and continued opposition to any use of force in the latest standoff between Baghdad and the UN (See yesterday’s Monitor) According to Valery Nesterushkin, that message was conveyed by Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov to U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright in a telephone conversation one day earlier. Officials in Moscow have meanwhile indicated that Russia is working to convince Baghdad to allow a full resumption of activities by UN weapons inspectors. (UPI, January 13; Reuter, January 14) The latest crisis was triggered when Iraqi authorities blocked the activities of a weapons inspection team that Baghdad said was dominated by American and British experts.

With these most recent statements, Moscow has made clear that the latest Iraqi-UN conflict has already assumed the diplomatic contours of the last crisis, in the fall of 1997. At that time, Moscow, backed by France, spearheaded the effort to employ a soft, strictly diplomatic approach in dealing with Baghdad’s defiance, while the U.S., with backing from Britain, maneuvered in vain to include a credible military threat as a possible response to Iraq’s actions.

Moscow’s hand was evident in a statement issued by the UN Security Council yesterday that deplored Iraq’s move to bar the American-led weapons inspection team. The statement also criticized Iraq for failing "to fill its obligations" on providing inspectors with "full, unconditional and immediate access to all sites," and it described Baghdad’s actions as "unacceptable and a clear violation" of the relevant UN resolutions. But, despite the seemingly strong wording, the statement was in fact a watered down version of one drafted by the U.S., which called for "condemning in the strongest terms" Iraq’s actions. A statement, moreover, carries less weight diplomatically than a resolution. (Reuter, January 14)

Members of the Security Council did reportedly reject a Russian proposal that the statement contain a call for a larger variety of nationalities to be included on the UN weapons inspection teams, a position that would have represented a considerable concession to Baghdad. In winning Iraq’s consent to a resumption of inspection activities last fall, officials in Moscow and Baghdad indicated that Russia had in effect agreed to work for an early lifting of the sanctions on Iraq. Some in Moscow also expressed sympathy at that time for Baghdad’s complaints about the composition of the UN weapons inspection team. It would not be a surprise if Russian-led efforts to lessen the weight of U.S. and British experts on the team continue in the days ahead.

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