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U.S.: Official Says No Iraq Deal With Russia Over Georgia

Moscow, 13 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton wrapped up three days of meetings in Moscow today by saying Washington's position on a possible attack against Iraq is not open to any deals with Russia or any other country.

Speaking to reporters, Bolton echoed the White House's recent change of tack from threats of unilateral military action to putting the United Nations' credibility on the line by criticizing Iraq's longtime defiance of Security Council resolutions. He said Moscow should be as concerned as Washington is with Iraq's posture. "I think the one major issue for the Russian Federation is the 10 years of contempt that Iraq has shown to the Security Council. Russia's obviously one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, as is the United States. [U.S.] President [George W.] Bush put very graphically yesterday why the council's authority and, indeed, its integrity is at risk, and I think because of Russia's status as a permanent member that that will weigh very heavily in their considerations," Bolton said.

Bolton added, however, that the U.S. will continue to address Russia's objections to a possible military attack.

The U.S. official was in the Russian capital for a series of meetings with representatives of various ministries in preparation for the first gathering of the Consultative Group on Strategic Security to be held in Washington on 20 September. The group, which was created at a U.S.-Russia summit in Moscow last May, consists of foreign and defense ministers of the two countries.

Bolton said talks involved bilateral and international strategic issues, as well as regional and political issues.

On the question of Iraq, Bolton said U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov had had a number of conversations on the topic in recent days, adding that there would likely be more.

Bolton skirted questions about why the United States appears now to be basing its criticism of Iraq on violations of UN mandates after recently appearing to give little weight to international opinion on the matter. He said Russian President Vladimir Putin's threat this week to stage a possible military offensive on Georgian soil, also in the name of antiterrorism, is not comparable to U.S. reasoning with regard to Iraq.

Putin on Thursday called on the UN to support Russian strikes on armed Chechen militants in Georgia's lawless Pankisi Gorge. Tbilisi is currently conducting its own operations in the area, backed up by troops trained by U.S. instructors.

Bolton said he had nothing to add to Washington's statement on Thursday condemning Putin's threat. Responding to a question about whether Putin may be trying to create a bargaining chip in the debate on Iraq, he said the issue does not involve formal rights to take action in each case but is a matter of what he called "prudence and judgment." "I would say on the subject of Iraq that President Bush has laid out our argumentation about that subject, and I don't see that really there are any quid pro quos to be had whether with Russia or others. I think our case is extremely strong and stands on its own merits," Bolton said.

Responding to Bush's ultimatum to Iraq during a speech to the UN General Assembly on Thursday, the Russian Foreign Ministry today issued a statement saying that "the potential for a political and diplomatic solution to the Iraqi crisis is far from exhausted."

Bolton said the United States will send representatives to the capitals of a number of countries, including Russia, to persuade them to go along with an attack on Iraq if it fails to allow UN weapons inspectors unfettered access to potential weapons sites. The move will follow the beginning of U.S. congressional testimony on Iraq next week.