Russia’s Foreign Ministry yesterday called on Iraq to cooperate fully with UN weapons inspectors, but also indicated that Moscow would seek a resolution of tensions between the UN and Baghdad through a process of dialogue. That stance, which combines calls for Iraqi authorities to end their defiance of UN sanctions while simultaneously ruling out any military measures that might enforce compliance, continues into the new year the policy so successfully pursued by Moscow last autumn. At that time Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov negotiated an end to a crisis between the UN and Iraq — also stemming from Baghdad’s defiance of UN weapons inspectors — by winning an agreement from Iraqi authorities to allow the inspectors to resume their duties. (Russian agencies, January 13. See also Monitor, November 14, 18-21, 26; December 18)
That earlier settlement, accepted only with reluctance by the U.S., reflected three troubling developments from Washington’s standpoint. First, it left Iraqi defiance of the UN unpunished. Second, it elevated Russia to a role of peacemaker in the region and strengthened it in its parallel role as a protector of Iraqi interests. Finally, it deepened and highlighted divisions between the U.S. and some of its European allies on policy toward Iraq. Moscow has labored to exploit these divisions, which extend also to other European and international issues, as part of its own broader effort to reduce U.S. influence in Europe. Russian and French companies have concluded a number of potentially lucrative business deals with Iraq, which can be launched only after the lifting of sanctions.
Yesterday’s remarks from the Russian Foreign Ministry followed Iraqi moves one day earlier aimed once again at limiting the access of UN weapons inspectors in Iraq. The latest wrangle is focused, not surprisingly, on a UN inspection team lead by an American and comprised mostly of experts from the U.S. and Britain. Last year, Iraqi authorities had charged that the weapons inspection teams were dominated by Americans and that they were being used to spy on Iraq. Washington has again threatened the use of force should Iraq fail to allow resumption of the inspections and full freedom for the inspectors. U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright discussed the latest crisis with Primakov by telephone yesterday. (Itar-Tass, January 13)
…As Russian Companies Win Iraqi Oil Contracts.