Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 21

Talks between U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, held in Spain on January 30, failed to bridge long-standing differences between the two countries on how best to deal with the crisis in the Persian Gulf. In remarks to reporters after the meeting, Albright said that a Russian diplomatic mission to Baghdad last week had failed to produce any evidence that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is prepared to cooperate with UN weapons inspectors. "Unfortunately, there is no concrete evidence that Iraq is negotiating for any reason other than diversion and delay," Albright said. She reiterated Washington’s readiness to launch strikes on Iraq. She also noted that France, which had stood with Russia and China in opposing any resort to military action against Iraq, had moved closer to the U.S. position. (AP, UPI, Russian agencies, January 30)

Albright’s meeting with Primakov was part of a broader effort to impress on U.S. allies–in Europe and in the Middle East–the urgency of the situation in Iraq in order to line up backing for possible military action. Primakov, in contrast, counseled patience and reiterated Moscow’s opposition to any use or threat of force. The Russian foreign minister also made clear that Moscow would continue its efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the latest crisis. Russian President Boris Yeltsin followed through on that pledge when, on January 31, he ordered Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Posuvalyuk to return to Baghdad for additional talks with Iraqi leaders. (Reuter, Itar-Tass, January 31) The talks will be a follow-up to the hastily arranged trip to Iraq by Posuvalyuk last week. While in Baghdad the Russian special envoy delivered a message from Yeltsin to the Iraqi leader. He then hurried to Madrid in order to brief Primakov prior to the meeting with Albright.

The Russian side has revealed almost nothing of Posuvalyuk’s talks in Baghdad. Primakov declined on January 30 to provide any more information. "That would interfere with his mission," he told reporters. Russian sources have suggested, however, that Posuvalyuk offered Moscow’s support for two Iraqi demands: that UN weapons inspection teams include fewer Americans and that overflights of Iraq, currently being conducted by U.S. aircraft, include planes from other countries. Iraqi authorities reportedly declined the offer because of their unwillingness to allow UN inspections of the so-called presidential sites, regardless of the composition of the inspection teams.

There are indications, however, that Moscow is pessimistic over the chances of success for its diplomatic mission, Primakov’s public statements notwithstanding. A leading Russian daily reached that conclusion after contacting Foreign Ministry staff members. (Izvestia, January 30). Moreover, unnamed American officials said that, during the talks with Albright, Primakov had himself held out little more than a "vague hope" of winning Iraqi compliance with UN demands. (The New York Times, January 31)

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