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Russia: Schroeder In Moscow For Iraq Talks As U.S. Envoy Fails To Make Headway

  • Gregory Feifer

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow later today for talks expected to focus on plans to avert a U.S.-led campaign against Iraq. As RFE/RL reports, a top U.S. diplomat in Moscow for talks yesterday said he failed to persuade Moscow to back a military campaign at this time.

Moscow, 26 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is due to visit Moscow this evening, where he is expected to pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin to firm up Moscow's opposition to a war in Iraq.

The meeting comes after a top U.S. envoy said he had failed to persuade Moscow to back a new United Nations Security Council resolution on Iraq proposed on 24 February by Britain and backed by the United States and Spain. The measure finds that Iraq has "failed to take the final opportunity to disarm" and is seen as paving the way for a military campaign against Baghdad.

As Washington launched a major diplomatic push to drum up support for the new resolution, Germany and France filed a counterproposal calling for inspectors to be given at least another four months to search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Moscow has backed the German-French memorandum. The Russian Foreign Ministry on 24 February issued a statement saying it would use "its entire arsenal of diplomatic means" to reach a political solution to the Iraqi crisis.

Speaking at the UN yesterday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov acknowledged that Iraq is not fully cooperating with UN arms inspectors but said Moscow is nevertheless against a military campaign. "We believe that there is still a chance to avoid war if there is more active cooperation from Iraq and also if there is a continuation of the inspections," Fedotov said. "That is why we don't think the time has come to abruptly stop the inspections."

U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton told reporters in Moscow yesterday that he had been unable to persuade Russian officials of the need for war in the face of Iraq's noncompliance with UN resolutions. "I didn't detect any shift in their position. But the nature of diplomacy is frequently [that] you have to give your message and receive a message back, and there's further consideration," Bolton said.

Bolton denied a report in "The Washington Post" yesterday alleging that he had told Russian officials that the White House has already made a decision to go to war. "Our effort remains to find a peaceful solution to the problem of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. In fact, whatever chance there is -- slim though it may be -- of a peaceful solution requires Security Council unanimity, or as close to it as we can get, and that's why we are engaged in an extensive diplomatic effort on behalf of this second resolution," Bolton said.

Bolton said he had discussed a visit last week by former Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov to Baghdad. Primakov is reported to have elicited a promise from Iraq of full cooperation with UN weapons inspectors.

Bolton's visit came as Putin's chief of staff, and one of his most influential aides, Aleksandr Voloshin was in Washington, where he met with U.S. President George W. Bush and national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Russian media said he may be seeking a deal that would secure Moscow's economic interests in oil-rich Iraq in any post-Saddam Hussein regime.

Meanwhile, Putin and Schroeder are expected to discuss plans to coordinate efforts in a last bid to avoid war in Iraq, including a possible call to invite UN peacekeepers into Iraq to support inspectors, according to the private Stratfor strategic analysis agency.

Viktor Kremenyuk is deputy director of the Institute for the U.S.A. and Canada Studies in Moscow. He said Schroeder will likely try to convince Putin to take a harder line against war in Iraq. "There are signs, after all, that Russia is wavering. There will probably be an attempt to remind [Russia] about its debts [to Germany] and to show that Germany has the means to provide for Russia's loyalty due to its obligations," Kremenyuk said.

The 15-member UN Security Council is due to meet tomorrow to discuss the competing Iraq proposals. Russia, along with fellow war critics France and China, wields veto power in the Security Council and could use it to sink a resolution.

Bolton said the United States and Britain are pushing for a vote on their new resolution within the next two weeks, following the next report on Iraqi disarmament by chief UN inspector Hans Blix.

Analysts say Russia may abstain from voting in the Security Council but that it would not likely use its veto power to kill a resolution.

Kremenyuk echoed the general opinion that Moscow does not, in the end, want to sour its relations with Washington by taking the lead in opposing war. "Russia will gain nothing if it argues with the United States [over Iraq]," Kremenyuk said.

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