Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 210

As the United States moved once again to build up its military might in the Persian Gulf, Russia yesterday restated its position that the latest crisis over Iraq can still be resolved by diplomatic means. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters in Moscow that Russia is “working actively with both Baghdad and the UN Security Council,” and with other interested states in an effort to find a political solution to the current crisis in Iraq. Ivanov was also critical of Iraq for failing to reverse an October 31 decision which halted the work of UN weapons inspectors. He asserted that Moscow was trying to use its influence in Baghdad in order to reverse the Iraqi policy. He nevertheless warned that the use of military force against Iraq would “wipe out the huge work done by the international community over the past seven years” and worsen the situation in the Gulf region as a whole. Ivanov’s remarks on Iraq came after meetings with the foreign ministers of Canada and Germany, and during an address to Russian lawmakers (Russian agencies, November 11).

In New York, Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Sergei Lavrov, delivered much the same message. He warned that the “use of force is fraught with very serious consequences not only for the UN ability to continue to monitor inside Iraq, but also for stability in the region and for the Middle East in general.” Lavrov also criticized Chief UN Weapons Inspector Richard Butler for ordering the withdrawal of UN personnel from Iraq without consulting the UN Security Council (AP, November 11). Moscow has long been sympathetic to Iraqi charges that Butler’s UN Special Commission–known as UNSCOM–has operated in a fashion overly hostile toward Baghdad. Iraq has also accused UNSCOM of serving the interests of the United States rather than those of the Security Council.

The UN Security Council, meanwhile, convened an emergency meeting last night at Russia’s request, and issued a statement that endorsed UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s appeal for Iraq to rescind its October 31 decision. The move came as the United States ordered additional aircraft and troops to the Persian Gulf and as U.S. President Bill Clinton appeared to signal a new readiness by Washington to employ military force against Iraq (Reuters, AP, November 11). Russia has long spearheaded opposition on the Security Council to the use of military force against Iraq. It has in general favored a more sympathetic approach toward Baghdad by UN weapons inspectors. There were indications last week, however, that Baghdad’s latest display of defiance might finally have led Russia to ease its opposition to British and American calls for the Security Council to approve possible military strikes against Iraq (Washington Post, November 7). The remarks yesterday by Ivanov and Lavrov suggest that that may not be the case.