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Iraq: Ambassador Criticizes U.S. As Moscow Backs Continued Inspections

Moscow, 27 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Baghdad's ambassador to Russia today said the governments of the United States and Britain are in "total isolation" from their electorates and from the wishes of the international community in their drive toward conflict in Iraq.

Abbas Khalaf told reporters in Moscow that UN weapons inspectors in Iraq should be given more time to confirm that Baghdad has destroyed its weapons of mass destruction. Khalaf spoke as chief weapons inspector Hans Blix prepared to present a crucial report to the UN Security Council today.

Khalaf said Iraq is fulfilling its promise to fully cooperate and that the inspectors are working well. He added that Washington does not want to hear such news. "The president of that great power has turned his country -- as the English saying goes -- into a 'one-issue country.' For [U.S. President George W.] Bush -- whose country suffers from unemployment, illiteracy, and inflation -- there is only one theme: how to unseat the current legitimate government of Iraq, contradicting all resolutions passed by the UN Security Council," Khalaf said.

Russia continues to advocate a UN solution to the crisis. Brushing aside Washington's claims that Iraq is not taking a "proactive" approach to the inspections, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement today saying the UN inspectors should be given whatever time they need to complete their work.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko repeated that call on Russian television today: "According to the preliminary information that we have, the [UN weapons] inspections in Iraq are continuing without any problems. We believe that only the UN and IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] inspectors can answer the question as to whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction or not."

Russian President Vladimir Putin called British Prime Minister Tony Blair today to stress Moscow's position, the Kremlin said in a statement.

Khalaf said Iraq is "thankful" for Russia's efforts to promote a diplomatic solution to the situation in Iraq, while calling U.S. government policies "morally bankrupt." "How can a country that has to answer for peace and security in the whole world unashamedly threaten a small country because it does not like the president of that country?"

Khalaf added that opposition to war by France and Germany indicates a growing rift between the United States and Europe -- and is a sign that the international community will not submit to U.S. "hegemony."

Blix is expected to add weight today to Washington's complaints about recent refusals by Iraqi scientists to grant interviews without the presence of government representatives. The U.S. says the refusals indicate Iraq is not fully cooperating with inspectors. IAEA head Mohammad el-Baradei is also expected to address the Security Council today.

Khalaf said Baghdad is not in violation of Security Council Resolution 1441 passed last year because the document does not call for Iraqi scientists to be interviewed alone by inspectors. He said he expects Blix will be "truthful" about the inspectors' work in Iraq over the past two months.