- MOSCOW (AFP) - President
Vladimir Putin launched a rare but scathing attack on the United States
for waging war in Iraq Thursday even as US envoy James Baker arrived in
Moscow to persuade Russia to write-off billions of dollars in debt from
- On the latest leg of a tour aimed at convincing major
creditors to ease Iraq's crushing $120 billion (97 billion euros) debt,
Baker met Putin in the Kremlin late Thursday to discuss the amount owed
to Russia, the second largest Paris Club lender to Iraq after Japan.
- Much of Iraq's $8 billion debt to Moscow - including
interest payments - is from military equipment that the Soviet Union delivered
to Iraq in the 1980s when Saddam Hussein attacked Iran in a war that killed
one million people on both sides and ended in a standoff.
- But Moscow has been furious with Washington in recent
days for barring countries that opposed the war on Iraq from taking part
in the lucrative first phase of reconstruction projects for the war-torn
- No Western or Russian reporters were allowed to attend
the Baker-Putin meeting - highlighting their sensitivity.
- Only hours before Baker's arrival, Putin used a live
question-and-answer session with Russian television viewers to issue some
of his most stinging criticism of the Iraqi war to date.
- "The use of force abroad, according to existing
international laws, can only be sanctioned by the United Nations. This
is the international law. Everything that is done without the UN Security
Council's sanction cannot be recognised as fair or justified," said
- "I am being as restrained as I can be when I choose
these words," Putin added.
- Putin described the United States as a partner but also
stressed firmly that the Iraqi campaign should not be lumped in with the
broader international war on terrorism - as Washington is doing.
- "We do not want the United States to lose their
war on terrorism. We are US partners in the fight against terrorism,"
- "But as for Iraq, this is a separate matter. There
were no international terrorists under Hussein. This is a separate problem,"
- He also suggested that the United States may be showing
over-confidence on the international scene and warned that "empires"
had fallen before from feeling too strong and using their military might
- His comments came days after Moscow warned Washington
that its decision to hog Iraq reconstruction projects was "unacceptable"
and began to waver on the issue of debt.
- Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov said last week
that Iraq was a "rich nation" that was capable of handling its
debt burden because of its vast oil reserves.
- But some other officials took a softer stance, saying
debt negotiations could be conducted through the Paris Club of creditor
- Baker's visit to Moscow has been shrouded in secrecy,
underscoring the sensitivity surrounding the negotiations.
- But Baker, a close friend of the family of US President
George W. Bush, has enjoyed success in other European capitals, winning
pledges of support from both French President Jacques Chirac and German
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
- Baker also received support in talks with Italian Prime
Minister Silvio Berlusconi and met with Prime Minister Tony Blair earlier
Thursday in London, where Britain pledged to help persuade other countries
to cut Iraq's debt. Paris Club members hold about one-third of Iraq's debt,
a total of $41 billion. So far, it has agreed on a moratorium on repayment
of the debt until next year, while calling for restructuring as soon as