Talks dragged on in Baghdad over the weekend as diplomatic efforts led by Russia and France failed to produce a breakthrough in the standoff between Iraq and the UN. Although he spoke again of growing "flexibility" on the part of Iraqi leaders, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov admitted on February 6 that the negotiations are proving difficult. He nevertheless reiterated Moscow’s insistence on two points: that military strikes on Iraq will not further the goal of disarming Baghdad, and that they could lead to a more general destabilization of the region. (Reuter, ORT, February 6; Itar-Tass, February 8) Meanwhile, Russia’s special envoy to Iraq, Viktor Posuvalyuk, said on February 7 that he will continue his talks with Iraqi leaders. A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said in Moscow that Posuvalyuk’s mission "has no time limits" and that he will remain in Iraq until "the successful completion of his work." (Itar-Tass, February 7)
Those developments in Moscow and Baghdad came as the United States continued to beef up its military forces in the Persian Gulf and as Washington and London continued to seek international support for the strike option. Primakov, meanwhile, tried to downplay talk of a Russian-U.S. rivalry over the crisis in Iraq, and also claimed that differences on that issue had not harmed broader Russian-U.S. relations. Both countries, he said, are united in wanting to ensure that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction are eliminated. (Itar-Tass, February 8)
Primakov’s remarks followed a February 6 briefing by State Department spokesman James Rubin. In that briefing Rubin denied U.S. media reports that the United States was considering the use of tactical nuclear weapons to destroy chemical and biological storage facilities in Iraq. (Reuter, February 6) Those reports were circulated in Moscow and are believed to be at least part of the reason why President Yeltsin last week twice charged that U.S. policy in Iraq could start a world war. (See Monitor, February 6) The same reports also got considerable play in Russia’s parliament and were used by lawmakers to justify their harsh criticism of Washington’s Iraq policy.
Yeltsin himself did not moderate his criticism of the United States. In an interview given to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera he accused the United States of trying to dominate the world. Yeltsin said that the "attempts of some countries… to assume the role of leader are unrealistic and even dangerous." Such attempts are "always short-lived," he said. (Reuter, Russian news agencies, February 8) Yeltsin arrives in Italy today on an official visit.
Finally, a Russian parliamentary delegation that was to have flown to Baghdad yesterday was still on the ground awaiting approval to use an air corridor through Iran. The plane was to carry medical supplies and other goods to the Iraqi population, although the mission of its passengers was clearly at least as political as it was humanitarian. Russian ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky organized the trip, and the Iraqi authorities provided visas for 57 deputies and 73 reporters (48 deputies and 120 reporters were said to actually be on the aircraft). The deputies declared that they would conduct a hunger strike until clearance came for their departure. (Russian news agencies, February 6-8; ORT, February 8)