Moscow appears to have moved quietly over the past several days to mend relations with the United States in the wake of last week’s U.S.-British air strikes on Iraq. Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Yuli Vorontsov, returned to Washington yesterday. He had been recalled to protest the military actions against Iraq. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, meanwhile, held telephone conversations with his U.S. and British counterparts–Madeleine Albright and Robin Cook, respectively–during which he reportedly emphasized the need for the three countries to renew diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis in Iraq. Albright was said to have confirmed her intention to fly to Moscow for talks next month (Reuters, December 23). The trip had been planned earlier, but questions on whether it would take place had arisen following the Russian-U.S. rift over Iraq and a subsequent decision by the Russian State Duma to put off consideration of the START II treaty.
It was unclear yesterday whether Russian-British relations would mend quite so quickly. After much hemming and hawing, the Russian Foreign Ministry said yesterday that Yuri Fokin, the Russian ambassador to Britain, would return to London on Monday. Like Vorontsov, he was recalled by Moscow to protest the U.S.-British strikes on Iraq. Ivanov yesterday denied that Russian relations with Britain are currently “more complicated” than those with the United States, but Moscow apparently is miffed over a decision by Cook to cancel a visit to Moscow that, like Albright’s, had been planned for January (Reuters, UPI, Russian agencies, December 23).
In a related development, the Kremlin announced on December 22 that President Boris Yeltsin had received a letter from Bill Clinton in which the U.S. president explained the reasons for the U.S.-British military actions in the Persian Gulf. Kremlin press spokesman Dmitri Yakushkin provided no details, but said that the message from Washington had expressed the hope that the strikes on Iraq would not damage broader Russian-U.S. relations (Reuters, Russian agencies, December 22).
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin, meanwhile, made clear that Moscow considers itself the aggrieved party in the latest clash with Washington. Rakhmanin said in a news briefing on December 22 that “the deterioration in Russian-U.S. relations is not our choice.” He suggested that a restoration of friendly ties with the United States depends on “U.S. policy and the Americans taking real steps toward compromise” (Reuters, December 22). Vorontsov, who is to retire next month, offered a more neutral evaluation of relations upon his arrival in Washington. He told Russian television that “life goes on and we will have normal relations with the United States…. Without withdrawing our criticism… relations will go on developing normally” (Reuters, December 23).
The apparent effort by both Moscow and Washington to ease tensions over Iraq was in evidence yesterday as the two countries signed off on a US$885 million food assistance deal. Under the terms of the agreement, the United States “will provide at least 3.1 million metric tons of food assistance for Russia’s most vulnerable populations and regions,” a U.S. diplomat said in Moscow yesterday. The food aid deal had been under negotiation for more than a month. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said yesterday that additional U.S. food assistance could be in the offing (Reuters, December 23).
SPARRING CONTINUES OVER UN POLICY TOWARD IRAQ.