Russian political leaders, who have spearheaded the international effort to hammer out a diplomatic resolution to the current crisis in the Persian Gulf, were buoyed yesterday by two events. The first was President Clinton’s February 17 address to U.S. military personnel in which Clinton muted U.S. calls for air strikes on Iraq while accenting Washington’s slim hopes that diplomacy might yet avert military action. The second was a decision by the UN Security Council’s five permanent members — albeit with only provisional support by the United States — authorizing UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to undertake a diplomatic mission to Baghdad. Moscow has called repeatedly for Annan to travel to Iraq, arguing that negotiations there were close to bearing fruit and that Annan’s input might make a critical difference. The UN leader is scheduled to arrive in the Iraqi capital on Friday.
The Kremlin’s chief spokesman underscored yesterday that President Yeltsin considers Annan’s mission to be "extremely important," while Foreign Ministry spokesman Valery Nesterushkin described it as the "culmination of active diplomatic efforts aimed [at achieving] a peaceful settlement of the Iraqi conflict." (Russian agencies, February 18) Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, addressing the issue a day earlier during a visit to Hungary, predicted that Iraqi authorities would submit to UN weapons inspections. That expression of optimism was seconded yesterday by an unnamed source in the Russian Foreign Ministry, who said that Moscow was satisfied with Iraq’s pledge to open all presidential sites without exception to UN inspectors. (Itar-Tass, February 18)
But, while many world leaders portrayed Annan’s talks in Baghdad as a last chance to avert military strikes on Iraq, Nesterushkin spoke otherwise. "Russia does not share the fatal conviction that the UN secretary-general’s forthcoming mission is, as it were, the last chance to settle the Iraqi crisis by political means," he was quoted as saying. (Reuter, February 18) The remark suggests that Moscow will continue to oppose US military actions in the event that Annan’s mission is unsuccessful.
…Softens Criticism of U.S. on Iraq.