Athens, 16 February 1998 (RFE/RL) - Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov said today that if Iraq has biological and chemical weapons, a U.S. military strike on them could have a disastrous impact on neighboring countries. Primakov, who was speaking on a visit to Athens, said that if such weapons exist they must not be destroyed by an attack. Iraq has denied having chemical or biological weapons.
Primakov added that time has not yet run out for a diplomatic solution to the Gulf crisis caused by Iraq's refusal to allow free movement to UN weapons inspectors.
Arab diplomats were engaged in efforts today to ward off threatened U.S. military strikes. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said he has called on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to abide by UN resolutions and avert air strikes against his country. And French President Jacques Chirac plans to meet tomorrow with Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohamed Saeed al-Sahhaf. France opposes air strikes against Iraq, an important trading partner.
In another development, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is waiting for word from the Security Council on whether he should undertake a mission to Baghdad. Annan is to meet later today with the five permanent members of the Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- to try to agree on proposals he might take to Baghdad to defuse the showdown between Iraq and the U.S.
China said today it has not struck a deal with the United States to abstain if the Security Council votes on a military strike against Iraq. The Chinese foreign ministry said China supports all efforts for a diplomatic solution.
Meanwhile, ultra-nationalist Russian Duma deputy Vladimir Zhirinovsky will return to Moscow from Baghdad tomorrow, but several of his hardline colleagues have offered to remain in Iraq to serve as "human shields" against any possible U.S. military strikes.