- Russia stood up firmly for Iraq by declaring that a military
campaign there ran counter to Moscow's national interests and urging Washington
to strictly abide by UN resolutions on the conflict.
- "The most important thing is making sure that Iraq
has no weapons of mass destruction," Foreign Minister Ivanov said
in an interview with Channel One, broadcast first in Russia's far eastern
regions, and picked up by news agencies.
- "All other goals run counter to our interests,"
Ivanov said in reference to the military campaign.
- Ivanov called on Washington to abide by the rules of
UN Security Council resolution 1441 -- which sets strict conditions for
Iraqi compliance with weapons inspection -- that he stressed was the best
method for assuring that Saddam Hussein's regime disarmed.
- "Russia and the United States have developed a joint
groundwork -- the most important goal is that Iraq complies with the UN
resolution," Ivanov said.
- He added that Russia would take no part in any campaign
if it went ahead.
- Edging still closer to Saddam, Ivanov further brushed
aside a recent conflict between Russia and Iraq over Baghdad's decision
to rip a lucrative oil contract held in Iraq by Russia's state-run oil
- Reports said that Saddam's regime nullified the deal
after learning that LUKoil executives had contacted the Iraqi opposition
and US officials in a bid to make sure that the contract would still be
valid should the current Iraqi regime fall.
- The problems between LUKoil and Iraq "arose two
or three years ago, and are not directly linked to the current situation,"
Ivanov said in his first public comments on the dispute.
- His comments are the firmest to date in support of the
pace of Iraq's cooperation with weapons inspections.
- Russia had previously offered only a vague response to
the 12,000-page weapons report delivered to the United Nations by Iraq
- Although as a Security Council permanent member it is
in possession of the full Iraqi declaration, it has refused to comment
on the text directly, saying that UN inspectors' report delivered to the
United Nations on Thursday did not prove that Baghdad was at fault.
- Analysts had suggested that Moscow's cautious approach
betrayed an implicit support for a joint US-British campaign to topple
Saddam's regime -- as long as such a strike was first approved by the United
Nations, where Moscow wields veto power.
- "If the United States respects UN rules then Russia
could not use its veto" against such a campaign, said Sergei Markov,
a political analyst with close ties to the Kremlin administration.
- In a wide-ranging interview summing up Russian foreign
policy achievements over the past year, Ivanov also spoke critically --
but with a hint of irony -- of US plans to develop a limited missile defense
shield by 2004.
- However a top military official who appeared jointly
with Ivanov in the television interview said the US shield was too under-developed
to pose a military threat to Russia.
- "After September 11, the United States no longer
feels itself secure and has decided to unfurl a missile shield -- perhaps
to demonstrate its technological superiority over other countries, or to
confirm the quality of its military program," Ivanov remarked.
- "But the most important question is: why is the
United States doing this," Russia's top diplomat said.
- "There are threats from terrorism, organized crime,
illegal drugs trafficking, which can only be combated jointly" by
Russia and the United States, Ivanov said.
- He suggested such cooperation would be doomed should
the US shield threaten Russia's security interests.
- In any case, the US missile defense is already proving
faulty, said the first deputy chief of general staff, Yury Baluyevsky.
- "The US decision to build a missile shield poses
no danger to Russia," he remarked.
- "There is no system that can give a 100-percent
guarantee of intercepting weapons," he said, noting that the latest
US test of an interceptor rocket had failed.
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