Russia’s Foreign Ministry yesterday criticized what it called an attempt by the United States and Britain to exert psychological pressure on diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis in Iraq. Foreign Ministry spokesman Valery Nesterushkin’s remarks followed warnings from Washington and London that this weekend’s mission by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to Baghdad could be the last chance to avert military air strikes on Iraq. Nesterushkin suggested that the U.S. and British warnings were intended to create an artificial impression that the time for negotiations must soon come to an end. He said that support for the diplomatic efforts would be a "far more productive" way of dealing with the crisis in the Persian Gulf. (Russian agencies, February 19) Nesterushkin’s remarks seemed to underscore once again Moscow’s intention to push for a diplomatic solution to the crisis even if the UN Secretary General’s mission is unsuccessful.
Russian officials nevertheless continued to speak in positive terms yesterday about the prospects for Annan’s talks in Baghdad. They also called for Iraq to meet UN demands with regard to unrestricted access to the so-called presidential sites. At the same time, however, Russian officials yesterday stressed the need for the UN to "respect the national dignity, sovereignty and security of Iraq." (Russian agencies, February 19) Such remarks serve in part to fulfill a pledge made by Moscow last fall — when Russia’s foreign minister brokered a deal to end an earlier UN-Iraq crisis over weapons inspections — to safeguard Iraq’s interests at the UN. But those remarks appear aimed also at providing the UN secretary general with some room for maneuver in the upcoming negotiations. The United States in particular has taken a hard line against making any substantive concessions to authorities in Baghdad. Washington’s stance will make the successful conclusion of an agreement that much more difficult to achieve for Annan.
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