Moscow, 29 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri held talks today in Moscow with his Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov. At a joint press conference following their meeting, the two men said they discussed efforts to lift United Nations sanctions against Iraq. The UN sanctions have been in place since Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Russia has made diplomatic efforts to persuade Baghdad to allow UN weapons inspectors to return to Iraq in exchange for an eventual lifting of the sanctions.
Ivanov said he believes it is possible to find a political solution to the weapons-inspection dispute. "We are convinced that it is possible to find a political solution. Furthermore, we think it is the only possible solution of this [Iraq] problem, the only way to resolve the situation around Iraq and to bring stability to the entire Persian Gulf region."
According to UN Security Council resolutions, Iraq must permit international weapons inspectors into the country to ensure that Baghdad is not developing weapons of mass destruction. Iraq says it no longer has prohibited weapons or the means to produce them.
Ivanov said Russia does not have any special solution to ending the impasse over weapons inspections. He said Russia -- which currently presides over the UN Security Council -- believes the problem should be solved on the basis of UN Security Council resolutions. He said Moscow is trying to convince Iraq to comply with the resolutions.
For his part, Sabri said Iraq will continue its talks with the United Nations in an effort to solve the crisis. "[Ivanov] and I discussed the dialogue that we are having at the moment with the United Nations. Iraq and Russia agree it is necessary to continue this dialogue in the direction established by the United Nations."
Sabri said he will leave Moscow tomorrow for New York, where he will meet UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to discuss the issue of international weapons inspections.
Sabri and Ivanov also discussed bilateral economic relations. Sabri said Russia is Iraq's biggest trading partner. Sabri told Interfax yesterday that Iraq owes Russia $7 billion in outstanding debt. He said bilateral trade between Russia and Iraq could reach $30 billion if UN sanctions are lifted.
Sabri said relations between Russia and Iraq are improving and are based on the principles of friendship and mutual cooperation.
After the press conference, Ivanov said he would be holding talks with the UN's chief arms inspector for Iraq, Hans Blix. Blix is also due to leave Moscow tomorrow for New York to meet with Annan on the Iraqi crisis.