Russia’s government has admitted that Russian firms conducted negotiations with Iraqi officials in 1995 over the sale of equipment that could be used in the production of biological weapons, the Washington Post reported yesterday. The newspaper quoted UN officials who said that the admission by Moscow came in a confidential letter from the Russian ambassador to the UN, Sergei Lavrov. The Russian government had sharply denied the existence of any such Russian-Iraqi negotiations when they were originally reported by the U.S. newspaper on February 12. Indeed, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman had described the allegations in the February 12 report as "crude attacks" and had said that Moscow would expect an "appropriate denial" of the charges from the United Nations special commission on Iraq (UNSCOM). (See Monitor, February 13)
Lavrov reportedly told the UN that no contracts had been signed as a result of the negotiations, but, according to UN officials, he failed to indicate whether any of the equipment in question had been transferred to Iraq. The Russian-Iraqi negotiations were said to have involved animal feed technology and production equipment that included a fermentation vessel with a total capacity of 50,000 liters (originally described as a 5,000 liter vessel). In a letter to Lavrov, UNSCOM chief Richard Butler reportedly reiterated UN concerns over the possible transfer of the equipment to Iraq. He noted that production of so-called single-cell proteins for animal feed "was the cover story used by Iraq" in the manufacture of some of its germ weapons prior to July 1995, the newspaper reported. The original Washington Post story had also contained allegations that Russia has tried to pressure UNSCOM and to manipulate some its personnel. It was unclear whether the exchange of letters between Lavrov and Butler addressed those issues.
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