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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Tone Down Rhetoric Over Iraq




President Boris Yeltsin's measured comments on the crisis in Iraq during his state-of-the-nation address were a useful corrective to the rather shrill remarks of the past couple of weeks.


Yeltsin and Russia's senior diplomats have adopted rhetoric that has gone well beyond the accepted norms of diplomacy and has at times threatened to blow up in Russia's face.


Yeltsin himself made probably the worst gaffe, saying repeatedly that the United States risked a "world war" if it went ahead with its bombing raids on Iraq. The rest of the world did not know what to make of this Cold War hyperbole.


Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev's remarks over the weekend were much more concrete. In publicly lecturing U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen, he threatened to cut off Russia's military cooperation with the United States if it proceeded with strikes on Iraq.


Russia may believe that a military strike against Iraq is inadvisable, but it makes no sense to jeopardize its deepening military and economic ties with the United States over the issue.


The theoretical financial benefits of close ties with Iraq pale next to the costs of the loss of U.S. financial aid for military conversion, U.S. cooperation on nuclear issues and other U.S. financial support. The Republican-dominated U.S. Congress would be only too glad for an excuse to start cutting back support to Russia.


Moreover, one-sided anti-U.S. rhetoric undermines Russia's claims to be an honest broker between the hotheads on either side of the Iraq dispute. As Russia's rhetoric grew more shrill, the United Nations was spreading allegations that Russia was breaching UN sanctions on Iraq and spying on the UN's activities.


Yeltsin's remarks Tuesday went some way toward restoring a balance by underlining both sides of Russia's position. He balanced his statement that "the use of force is the last option and a highly dangerous one" by saying, "Russia is going to sternly insist that [Iraq] fulfill the resolutions of the UN Security Council."


These comments should help bring Russia back into the diplomatic middle ground. Countries like China and France also want to avert military strikes, but they have not resorted to silly rhetoric and impractical threats to make the point.


And they have balanced their calls for caution with statements underlining the need to force Saddam Hussein to open up his country to UN weapons inspectors. Russia should not get carried away with pro-Iraq rhetoric and burn its much more crucial bridges with the United States.