In a long television interview broadcast on February 27, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov credited President Boris Yeltsin with spearheading the international diplomatic effort that ultimately led to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s February 23 agreement with Iraqi leaders. Primakov described an active Yeltsin who, he said, was abreast of events and in constant contact with the Foreign Ministry throughout the latest crisis. Primakov also suggested that media observers had unfairly maligned Yeltsin when the Russian president unexpectedly announced during a visit to Italy that Annan would soon be setting off for Baghdad. Annan embarrassed the Kremlin when he denied having any such plans. (See Monitor, February 10) But Primakov suggested that Annan’s trip had in reality been a foregone conclusion — something Yeltsin knew — and that it had been necessary only to overcome U.S. objections.
Primakov, not surprisingly, spoke highly of Annan’s mission, which Moscow had strongly backed. He also downplayed the importance of U.S. and British military power in the Gulf as a factor in reaching a settlement between Iraq and the UN. He expressed his belief that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein will meet the commitments he made in the February 23 agreement.
As he had done prior to the February 23 agreement, however, Primakov continued to insinuate that UN weapons inspectors have acted improperly in the past while performing their duties in Iraq. He warned that some sort of "provocation" could still upset the recently brokered settlement and appeared to point the finger at the UN inspectors — rather than at the Iraqi authorities — as the likely perpetrator. Primakov called on the inspectors "to respect Iraq’s national pride" and urged yet again, albeit indirectly, for the number of Americans and Britons on the inspection teams to be reduced. (NTV, February 27)
Throughout the recent crises between Iraq and the UN, Primakov’s views have often been noted to coincide with those of Iraqi leaders. That pattern repeated itself with regard to the UN inspectors when Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz warned reporters on March 1 that "problems" could arise if the UN inspectors failed to carry out their duties "according to UN standards." (Reuter, March 1) The remarks out of Moscow and Baghdad suggested an effort to put the behavior of the inspectors — and their head, UNSCOM chief Richard Butler — under scrutiny during what is likely to be a tense period ahead for those trying to uncover the truth about Iraq’s weapons development programs.
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