Russia Backs Iraq, Says War
Counter To Moscow Interests


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 company LUKoil.
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 this month.
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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