Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov, a Middle East expert, lamented Russia’s loss of influence in that part of the world yesterday and said that Russian diplomacy should be more active there. Primakov was not specific in his comments, made during a visit to the Kazakh capital of Almaty, but he did say that as co-chair of the Madrid Conference on peaceful regulation of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Russia was playing a "minimal role inadequate to its potential." He added that Russia has "a significant economic interest in the Arab countries…[that] could be protected in a more reliable fashion."
In recent weeks Moscow has concluded a series of energy agreements with Iraq, to be launched as soon as UN sanctions against Baghdad are lifted, that are believed to be worth more than $10 billion. It has also reached agreements with Iran for the delivery of defense-related goods that could total up to $4 billion over the next four to five years. Russia’s role in the Middle East was discussed during Primakov’s recent meeting with U.S. secretary of state Warren Christopher in Helsinki, and U.S. officials said afterward that Washington would dispatch its top Middle East negotiator to Moscow to brief Russian officials on the Israeli-Syrian peace talks. Washington has, to no effect, vehemently opposed Russia’s dealings with Iran and it has also been suspicious of Primakov’s earlier close ties to Saddam Hussein. The Russian foreign minister distanced himself slightly from the Iraqi leader in his remarks yesterday. (1)
Western Leaders Reaffirm Irrevocable Expansion of NATO.