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Russia: Ivanov Says Iraq Issue Will Not Harm Relations With Washington

  • Nikola Krastev

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was in New York yesterday to participate in the annual forum organized by the Eurasia Group, the United Nations, and the Business Council for the UN. In a question-and-answer session with reporters, Ivanov spoke about Iraq, U.S.-Russia relations, and Moscow's battles with Georgia over what Russia sees as Tbilisi's failure to take tough actions against armed Chechen separatists allegedly sheltering in the region.

New York, 18 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov says he doesn't believe the current standoff between the United States and Iraq will affect relations between Moscow and Washington in any significant way.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Eurasia summit in New York yesterday, Ivanov reiterated his country's appeal for a peaceful solution to the crisis. At the same time, he said, all measures must be taken to force Iraq to comply with United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Ivanov characterized Iraq's announcement this week that it will allow the unconditional return of UN weapons inspectors as a "great success" for the international community. He said that only the immediate return of the inspectors and the fulfillment of their mission can answer the question of whether Iraq truly possesses weapons of mass destruction.

Russia is opposed to any unilateral military action by the U.S. against Iraq. Asked if he believes the Iraqi issue will complicate U.S.-Russian relations, Ivanov said that it will not. "I think that [the Iraqi issue] will not be a problem that will lead to complications in our bilateral relations. [The U.S. and Russia] are both involved in the fight against terrorism. We are both interested in the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We have common goals to safeguard international stability. And we will closely cooperate in the UN Security Council and in our bilateral relations to find solutions that are acceptable to our common goals," Ivanov said.

In addition to Iraq, Ivanov also discussed the political showdown between Georgia and Russia over the alleged presence of armed Chechen separatists in the Pankisi Gorge. Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday accused the Georgian government of "cooperating with terrorists" rather than hunting them down.

Ivanov reiterated Russia's dissatisfaction regarding what he called Georgia's unwillingness to eliminate alleged Chechen separatist hideouts in the Pankisi Gorge. "What is the value of Georgian authorities' statements nowadays? 'We will pursue the dislodging of the terrorists from the Pankisi Gorge, but we don't care where they go?' What kind of statements are these? What kind of principle is this? What kind of solidarity in the fight [against terrorism] is this? So, let the terrorists commit crimes on my neighbor's [territory] as long as they do not commit crimes in my vicinity. If we are guided by this principle, we will never win the fight against terrorism," Ivanov said.

Ivanov said that, contrary to media reports, there has been no trade-off between Russia and the U.S. with regard to Iraq and Georgia. Some commentators have speculated that Putin may have been hoping to trade his Security Council vote for tough military action against Iraq in exchange for Washington's giving Moscow a free hand in Georgia.

He downplayed the significance the media is attributing to the Pankisi Gorge issue and said that Russia and Georgia share centuries of friendly relations. "I can assure all of you that there wasn't any agreement between [the U.S. and Russia], and there couldn't have been any. We don't play such games. [Georgian President Eduard] Shevardnadze is apparently sticking to his old memories from the Cold War period. We live in a different era, and we don't make such trade-offs. The issue at stake is the fight against terrorism. We have only one problem with Georgia: the fight against terrorism. There is no other problem between Russia and Georgia. There's not a problem that will put a shadow on our centuries-long tradition of friendship," Ivanov said.

Ivanov emphasized the importance of international cooperation in the fight against terrorism. Citing the successful cooperation between France and Spain against Basque separatists, he said similar cooperation must be followed by other countries facing terrorism threats, including Russia and Georgia.

Looking back on the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, Ivanov said the day had taught world leaders some hard lessons. "While we were discussing hypothetical threats -- like, do we need an antimissile treaty or do we not? -- it turned out that the threat was waiting for us in a different corner. On 11 September 2001, we realized that today no one can feel safe in the face of the terrorist threat. And we realized that only together are we able to fight this evil of the 21st century. We must fight not hypothetical but real threats," Ivanov said.

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