Chirac fears of serious diplomatic crisis with Washington as Russia says no justification for military action in Iraq

Published January 23rd, 2003 - 02:00 GMT

Russia is not trying to persuade Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to step down and go into exile, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in an interview published Thursday.  


Ivanov told the Trud newspaper that reports of supposed Russian efforts to avoid war by persuading Saddam it was time to go were the work of publications trying to cast a shadow on Russian diplomacy.  


"Any talks about Saddam Hussein's leaving that allegedly are carried out by Russian diplomats in Baghdad is nothing else but supposition," Ivanov said, saying such an action would constitute an intervention in Iraq's internal affairs.  


Ivanov, however, said that Russia was in contact with Iraqi officials. "We are not stopping contacts with Baghdad in order to know more about the mood and thoughts of the Iraqi leadership," Ivanov said.  


Ivanov added there was not enough evidence from U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq to justify military intervention.  


Speaking in Athens, after arriving for a two-day meeting with the European Union to discuss ways of averting possible U.S.-led military intervention in Iraq, he said "Russia deems that there is no evidence that would justify a war in Iraq."  


"There is still political and diplomatic leeway to resolve the Iraq issue," Ivanov said. "The efforts of the international community must be directed now at helping international inspectors perform their mission. This is the direction we intend to pursue, among others, along with the European Union."  


The talks with Ivanov come as EU foreign ministers plan to meet Monday in Brussels, Belgium. During that meeting, Greece will also host a meeting on the Iraq crisis with the four EU member states currently on the Security Council.  


"We want to be able to forge a common position, a common ground on Iraq," Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Panos Beglitis said. Describing Iraq as a "test of credibility" for the EU, Beglitis said forging a common EU position "will not be an easy process."  


Meanwhile, a host of French ministers reacted angrily Thursday to U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld's dismissal of France and Germany as the "old Europe," saying his remarks underscore America's arrogance.  


But on a visit to Berlin, French President, Jacques Chirac immediately called for calm to prevent the row from degenerating into a full-blown diplomatic crisis.  


According to AP, Chirac spokeswoman Catherine Colonna said the president considers the debate on a war with Iraq "legitimate" but wants to see it "take place with seriousness and calmness."  


His CALM tone was not echoed by government ministers in Paris, however. "If you knew what I felt like telling him, to Mr. Rumsfeld ... " Ecology Minister Roselyne Bachelot told French radio. She then used a well-known regional expression for a four-letter word.  


Finance Minister Francis Mer said he was "profoundly vexed" by the remarks. "I wanted to remind everyone that this 'old Europe' has resilience, and is capable of bouncing back," he told LCI television. "And it will show it, in time."  


The government's official spokesman, Jean-Francois Cope, said Rumsfeld would do better to listen to the "wise" advise of the 'old Europe' gained through its long history.  


"When one is an old continent, a continent with an old historic, cultural and economic tradition, one can sometimes inherit a certain wisdom, and wisdom can be a good adviser," he told reporters.  


Rumsfeld made the remarks Wednesday in Washington after Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder countered U.S. threats of war against Iraq by together pushing for a peaceful solution. The move led NATO to postpone its planning for a possible war in Iraq.  


In responding to a reporter's question about French and German qualms, Rumsfeld hinted the United States would turn to new NATO members in Eastern Europe for support.  


"You're thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don't," he said. "I think that's old Europe. If you look at the entire NATO Europe today, the center of gravity is shifting to the east and there are a lot of new members."  


Rumsfeld added that "Germany has been a problem and France has been a problem ... but you look at vast numbers of other countries in Europe, they're not with France and Germany on this. They're with the United States."  


Reaction to the comments was more muted in Berlin, but Volker Ruehe, a former defense minister and prominent opposition member, bluntly said: "Rumsfeld is not a diplomat." (

© 2003 Al Bawaba (

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