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Russia: UN Should Keep Iraqi Sanctions

Moscow is hoping for some kind of a tacit agreement that Washington will not interfere with Russia's efforts to have the new regime pay Iraq's multibillion debt and honor contracts signed with Russian oil companies under Saddam's regime.
Russia: UN Should Keep Iraqi Sanctions
By Simon Saradzhyan, The Moscow Times, April 22, 2003

Russia will insist that UN arms inspectors return to Iraq and verify that Baghdad has no weapons of mass destruction before sanctions imposed on the country can be lifted, a senior Russian diplomat said Monday.

"This could be done within a couple of weeks as it is obvious that there are no such weapons there," an unnamed Foreign Ministry official told Itar-Tass.

The official's comment was in line with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov's remark last week that the inspectors should go back to Iraq, and that only the United Nations Security Council could decide whether to lift the sanctions. Washington said last week that the sanctions should be removed.

UN weapons inspectors roamed Iraq for weeks in search of weapons of mass destruction, but managed to find only several missiles before leaving on the eve of the U.S.-led military operation last month. The U.S. administration cited the alleged development of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons by Saddam Hussein's regime as one of the reasons for launching the operation on March 20.

Russia, along with France and Germany, continues to insist that the UN should play a lead role in postwar Iraq, while Washington sees the organization having only a limited involvement in rebuilding the country.

The Security Council may convene on Tuesday to hear chief weapons inspector Hans Blix report on whether the team of inspectors is ready to resume inspections.

Benon Sevan, the head of the Security Council's oil-for-food program, will also address the council on the progress of the program, Itar-Tass reported Monday.

In what appeared to be a coordinated campaign ahead of the council meeting, another Russian diplomat told Interfax on Monday that the oil-for-food program must continue until the sanctions are lifted.

Given Russia's refusal to approve of U.S. actions in Iraq, Moscow should not count on the new Iraqi regime to honor Russia's economic interests, Pentagon advisor Richard Perle said. By having sided with France and Germany, Russia has assumed a position that "will undoubtedly cause serious damage to Russia's interests," Perle was quoted as saying in Kommersant's Monday edition.

"There is a great probability that all previous deals with Russia will be declared null and void" by the new regime, said Perle, who was one of the chief advocates of using force against Hussein's regime.

By pressing for resumption of inspections, Russia is trying to highlight inconsistencies in U.S. policy, said Ivan Safranchuk, a Moscow-based researcher for the Center for Defense Information in Washington.

Safranchuk said Russia's argument is that prior to the war, the White House had insisted that sanctions remain in place until Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were found. If that is still the case, and weapons are still in Iraq, Russia argues that sanctions should remain in place until the inspectors find them and have them destroyed, he said.

But if the inspectors find no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, then Russia can raise questions about the motives behind the U.S.-led attack, Safranchuk said.

The U.S. administration should make it clear what assumptions its policy is based upon, he said. It would be inconsistent to first try to assure the world that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, only later to say sanctions should be lifted even though weapons have yet to be found, Safranchuk said.

"[Russia's] argument is 100 percent logical," even though Russian policymakers know that the Bush administration's prime goal was to unseat Hussein, Safranchuk said.

Still, Russia will continue to pursue its argument in an effort to keep the United States engaged in a dialogue over Iraq. Moscow is hoping the dialogue will lead to some kind of a tacit agreement that Washington would not interfere with Russia's efforts to have the new regime pay Iraq's multibillion debt and honor contracts signed with Russian oil companies under the previous regime, Safranchuk said.

Whether Russia's economic interests are honored or not, the return of inspectors to Iraq would help strengthen the UN's authority, which has been put in question by the U.S.-led campaign, according to Alexander Pikayev of the Moscow Carnegie Center. Russia is interested in maintaining the UN's relevance as Moscow occupies a permanent seat at the Security Council and has the right to veto any resolution.

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