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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ivanov's Offer Links Iraq to Chechnya

Russia has suggested for the first time that it might support a weapons inspection system for Iraq that would be acceptable to Western nations if Washington gave Moscow a free hand in Chechnya, U.S. officials said Thursday.

The proposed link was contained in an informal document that Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov gave U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright during a meeting Wednesday of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in Istanbul. Officials in President Bill Clinton's administration seemed eager Thursday to reject even the possibility of such a deal.

After restating Russian demands for changes in U.S. policy toward Iraq, the paper asked the Clinton administration to agree not to raise Russia's military actions against Chechnya in the UN Security Council, which the paper stated "is unacceptable to us." Russia could then offer progress on Iraq, the paper suggested, saying, "We are ready to instruct the Russian representative to the Security Council to be flexible on Iraq."

Iraq has said it would not accept the proposals now being considered in the Security Council for keeping it from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

U.S. officials said the diplomatic paper caught them off guard, the more so because Thursday in Istanbul, neither Ivanov, in his meeting with Albright, nor President Boris Yeltsin, who met with Clinton, brought up such a trade-off.

James Rubin, the State Department spokesman, said: "If Russia did seek such linkage, we would find it wholly unacceptable. We will pursue our interests in both areas without regard to any attempt by Russia to link them."

However, the paper, parts of which were read to The New York Times by an administration official, led to a debate within the administration over how it should be interpreted, officials said.

One question was whether Russia was really prepared to move away from Iraq to gain U.S. acquiescence for its operations in Chechnya, or whether the suggestion was made in the knowledge that Washington would reject it.

Another question was why Russia would be anxious about Chechnya coming up before the Security Council. According to several UN diplomats, neither the Security Council members nor even many Islamic states seem inclined to criticize Russia formally at the United Nations for a campaign in a republic that is still part of the the Russian federation.

Russia and the United States have been deeply divided over how to monitor Iraqi weapons programs and when, or if, to begin removing sanctions against Baghdad. There have been no UN inspections in Iraq since December, when inspectors were withdrawn in advance of punitive airstrikes by Britain and the United States, and President Saddam Hussein barred them from returning.