Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 220

Russia, which has long been Baghdad’s most steadfast backer on the UN Security Council, reportedly moved last week to block approval of a statement which would have accused Iraq of failing to cooperate with UN weapons inspectors. The statement, drafted by Britain and backed by the United States, was discussed by the council in New York on November 24. The statement sought to make clear that Baghdad was failing to comply with its November 15 pledge to cooperate with UNSCOM, the UN Special Commission in charge of overseeing Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

Although the council announced that it “fully supported” the work of the UN weapons inspectors, the Russian action reflected continuing divisions among council members over policy toward Iraq. At issue currently is a series of documents requested from Iraq by UNSCOM chief Richard Butler. Iraq has refused to turn the documents over, claiming, according to one Iraqi newspaper, either that they “do not exist” or that they “have no relation to the disarmament procedures.” The UN Security Council has pledged to launch a comprehensive review of Iraq’s compliance to date with the disarmament effort, but that review will not start until Iraq has demonstrated that it is cooperating fully with UNSCOM.

Moscow appeared last week to embrace, at least in part, Iraq’s complaint that Butler is using the documents issue as a pretext to block the comprehensive review. Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Sergei Lavrov, told reporters that Russia would not approve the British-sponsored statement until council members held a full discussion on whether the documents sought by Butler actually exist. Moscow also applauded a decision taken by the Security Council last week to extend by another six months the UN’s “oil-for-food” program in Iraq. The program permits Baghdad to sell oil in order to finance the purchase of humanitarian goods for the Iraqi population (Reuters, Russian agencies, November 25).

In Moscow, meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed its “bewilderment” over a press report alleging that Russia and Iraq are plotting to impede the work of UNSCOM’s inspectors. The report claimed that a high-ranking Russian diplomat and an Iraqi UN representative had held a secret conversation to that effect on November 15 in New York. The Russian Foreign Ministry said that Moscow continues to fully support “full implementation of the UN Security Council’s resolutions on Iraq” (Russian agencies, November 25). On November 24 Russia had decried calls by Britain and the United States for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein (see the Monitor, November 25).[Note: This coverage of CIS affairs will be continued in tomorrow’s Monitor.]