Russia seeking to expand cooperation with Iraq
Moscow is seeking to strengthen its relations with Iraq, a country still subject to strict international sanctions, a Russian official said Monday, November 26. Russia wants to "develop and deepen" its economic and political ties with Iraq which "holds an important position in the Middle East," deputy foreign minister Alexander Saltanov said at a round table on Russian-Iraqi economic cooperation.
Iraq is a strategic trading partner for Russia despite its classification by the United States as a sponsor of state terrorism and the UN sanctions imposed after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Participants in Monday's round table -- attended by Russian businessmen and lawmakers and a number of Iraqi government officials and parliamentarians -- called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to "take all necessary steps" to block proposed UN smart sanctions on Iraq.
Smart sanctions, which are backed by Washington, would scrap the embargo on civilian trade with Baghdad while tightening controls to prevent oil-smuggling out of Iraq and illegal arms imports into the country. Baghdad has consistently opposed a revised regime of the harsh economic sanctions imposed in August 1990 and Moscow has long sought to have the embargo lifted.
The UN Security Council in July put off indefinitely a vote on a revised sanctions regime after Russia threatened to use its veto and opposition from Iraq's neighbors. However, Saltanov said Monday that it was becoming "increasingly difficult for Russia to fight alone" against a tightening of sanctions against Bagdad. He added that Iraq's situation was worsening, since it was now in danger of becoming a "military target" for the United States in its fight against international terrorism.
Since the September 11 attacks on the United States, several top US officials have hinted that Washington might not confine its military operations to Afghanistan and could strike at Iraq as well. The Iraqi ambassador in Moscow, Mujir Al-Duri, said Baghdad was "counting a lot on Russia's support."
Ultranationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, also a deputy speaker of the Duma or lower house of parliament, said he was convinced Russia, which holds a seat on the UN Security Council and has a right of veto, could block the proposed smart sanctions.
Russia has purchased a quarter of the oil exported by Iraq over the past six months and Russian companies have exported $1.85 billion worth of goods to Iraq over the past ten months, up from $1.25 billion for the whole of last year, Saltanov said.
The United Nations is to debate early next month an extension of the "oil for food" program, which allows Iraq to export a limited quantity of oil to purchase food for its population. — (AFP, Moscow)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)
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