The Iraq crisis remained in the headlines yesterday as a Russian diplomat launched talks in Baghdad while Russia and the United States held high level consultations on the issue. Russian special envoy Viktor Posuvalyuk was dispatched to the Persian Gulf on January 26 by Boris Yeltsin. The Russian president claimed to be concerned by reports that the United States and Britain were planning for the possibility of military strikes on Iraq. (See yesterday’s Monitor)
Posuvalyuk arrived in Baghdad late yesterday following an overland journey from Amman, Jordan. (Flights are banned over Iraq.) Late reports indicated that the Russian envoy met last night with Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz. Earlier, Posuvalyuk had said that he would meet with Iraqi officials, including President Saddam Hussein, in an effort to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Russia has made clear that it opposes a military solution to the latest standoff between Iraq and the UN. The conflict has been caused by Iraq’s efforts to place restrictions on the activities of UN weapons inspectors. U.S. officials placed little hope in Posuvalyuk’s mission.
Yesterday, Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright discussed the crisis by telephone. Primakov reportedly reiterated Moscow’s insistence on a diplomatic solution. According to a U.S. source, the two diplomats are scheduled to meet today, probably in Spain, for additional talks. Albright is also slated to meet with French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine in Paris, and British foreign secretary Robin Cook in London, the same source said. During a press conference in Brussels yesterday Primakov reiterated Moscow’s call for diplomacy, but also said that Iraq must grant full access to the UN weapon inspection teams. (Itar-Tass, AP, January 27)
Not surprisingly, Posuvalyuk’s arrival was greeted with enthusiasm in Baghdad. One Iraqi newspaper said that "Russia… is protecting international honor in the world and saying ‘No’ to the aggression and oppression against Iraq." The newspaper also said that Moscow’s stand against the use of force in the current crisis reflects a rebirth of Russia’s international prestige following the Soviet Union’s dissolution. (Reuter, January 27) A U.S. newspaper suggested yesterday that Russian president Boris Yeltsin’s determination to retain a role for Russia in the Persian Gulf is also related to domestic affairs. (The New York Times, January 27) Iraq is one of the few places in the world where Moscow currently plays a significant role. Representatives of a variety of Russian political factions — meeting on January 26 in Strasbourg — were quick to embrace Yeltsin’s dispatch of Posuvalyuk to Iraq. (Ekho Moskvy, January 26)
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