With Washington inching ever closer to a decision to launch military air strikes on Iraq, Russia over the weekend intensified its calls for UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to visit Baghdad. "Russian believes one cannot talk about failed diplomatic efforts or reach a verdict before Kofi Annan goes to Baghdad himself," Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov said in Moscow on February 13. Primakov’s remarks followed talks with visiting U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen that only underscored the differences between Washington and Moscow on policy toward Iraq. (See below) Russia stepped up its pressure further on the UN secretary general a day later when Russian special envoy Viktor Posuvalyuk was quoted as saying that "everything now depends on the result of negotiations which are going on in New York over a possible visit to Baghdad" by Annan. (Reuter, Russian agencies, February 13; Reuter, February 14)
Posuvalyuk, a Russian deputy foreign minister, has spearheaded joint efforts by Russia, France and the Arab League, among others, to reach a diplomatic solution to the conflict between Iraq and the UN that would avert U.S. air strikes on Iraq. His remarks, along with those of Primakov, suggest a recognition by Moscow that its diplomatic mission to Iraq is thus far bearing little fruit. The Kremlin was embarrassed early last week when Russian President Boris Yeltsin said during a visit to Italy that Annan would soon travel to Baghdad in an effort to boost Russia’s diplomatic efforts there. (See Monitor, February 10) Annan’s quick denial of any such travel plans suggested that Posuvalyuk and others had failed to move Iraqi President Saddam Hussein far enough to satisfy the demands of those countries — the United States and Britain in particular — insisting on full and unrestricted access for UN weapons inspectors in Iraq. A proposal drafted by the Iraqi authorities and diplomats in Baghdad calls for limited access by UN inspectors to eight disputed "presidential sites." The United States and Britain have flatly rejected that proposal.
Posuvalyuk’s mention of negotiations in New York referred to talks involving the UN Security Council’s five permanent members — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — aimed at reaching a consensus on a negotiating position that Annan might bring to Baghdad. The UN secretary general said over the weekend that he is now not ruling out a trip to Iraq. He also dispatched a technical team there. Its mission is to map out and assess the eight so-called "presidential" sites. The team reportedly hopes to complete its work in three or four days. (The New York Times, February 14; Reuter, February 15)
U.S., Russia Continue to Clash on Iraq.