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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kremlin, U.S. Hold Tough in Iraq Feud




Russia gave the United States a stern warning over Iraq for the second straight day Friday, with Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov saying diplomacy should be given a chance until UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has visited Baghdad.


But U.S. President Bill Clinton rebuffed Russian objections, saying "'Nyet' does not mean no for the United States."


Primakov, speaking after a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen in Moscow, said, "It's necessary to find a political and diplomatic solution; we are against the use of force."


He added, "Russia believes that one cannot talk about failed diplomatic efforts or reach a verdict before Kofi Annan goes to Baghdad himself."


President Boris Yeltsin said Monday during his trip to Italy that such a visit was in the works, but the UN denied it. On Friday, however, Annan left the door open, saying a trip to Baghdad was still a possibility.


The U.S.-Russian disagreement over Iraq has been a major theme during Cohen's three-day visit. On Thursday, Russian Defense Minister Ivan Sergeyev gave a startled Cohen a 10-minute lecture, calling the U.S. position "uncompromising" and saying an attack on Iraq would threaten Russia's "vital interests."


By meeting Primakov, Cohen dealt with Russia's chief policy maker on Iraq. The foreign minister is an Arab affairs specialist who knows Iraqi President Saddam Hussein personally and served as former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's envoy in an attempt to ward off the 1991 Gulf War.


Clinton said Friday he understands Russia's concerns and said the United States is exhausting every possible diplomatic route. But "we don't believe it is acceptable, if diplomacy fails, to walk away. ... That's the rub," The Associated Press quoted him as saying during a White House ceremony.


"If there is military action over this matter in Iraq, it will be Saddam Hussein's decision, not mine. And it's up to him to make that decision, and I hope and pray that he will allow" unrestricted weapons inspections, Clinton said. "I think it is a no-brainer."


The United States is pressuring Iraq to permit full access to UN weapons inspectors looking for weapons of mass destruction and has been preparing to launch military strikes against the Arab state if it continues to block inspection. Iraq accepted the inspections as part of the cease-fire that ended the Gulf War.


But the Kremlin has come to the defense of Iraq in what analysts say is an attempt to maintain Russia's prestige and influence in the Arab world, and to counterbalance the United States in the Middle East. In addition, Iraq owes Russia billions of dollars in debts left over from the Cold War.


Russian official circles continued to express their annoyance Friday at this week's front-page report by The Washington Post claiming that UN inspectors had found evidence of a Russian deal to sell Iraq equipment, including a 5,000-liter fermentation vessel that could be used to develop biological weapons.


The Russian foreign ministry has dismissed the report as "crude inventions."


The Russian ambassador to the UN, Sergei Lavrov telephoned the UN Special Commission chairman Richard Butler in New York to seek a repudiation of the article, Agence France Presse reported, citing an unnamed UN official. The commission is charged with dismantling Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and biological weapons.


A Russian foreign ministry statement distributed Friday argued the newspaper report contains information which only the commission can possess and which it is not supposed to make public.


The Iraqi government sided with Russia by condemning the article in The Washington Post as a bid "to thwart the intense efforts Russia is making ... to achieve a diplomatic solution to the current problem," Reuters quoted a government spokesman in Baghdad as saying.


In other developments, Russia's flamboyant nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, in Baghdad after flying in from Moscow with a cargo of humanitarian aid, said Friday that U.S. and British leaders were bent on starting a world war, Reuters reported.


The Iraqi people "are against war," he said in English, sitting on the Baghdad Press Center floor with his arm around a 13-year-old Iraqi boy named Safa Jabbar. "Russian people are against war. Who is for war? Who? United States of America people? No, never."


Zhirinovsky and his 30-strong delegation of Russian lawmakers and journalists were scheduled to fly into Moscow's Vnukovo airport late Friday night.