Russia Warns Bush Against
Military Strike On Iraq

By Oleg Shchedrov

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Thursday that Moscow was opposed to any U.S. military operation against Iraq, offering crucial support to Baghdad in its confrontation with Washington.
In a further gesture of support after talks with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz, Ivanov said Moscow wanted sanctions against Iraq to be lifted.
Aziz arrived in Moscow Wednesday amid threats by Washington to use force against Iraq if it refused to allow in U.N. arms inspectors, who left Iraq in 1998 complaining they were being prevented from performing their duties.
``We will not submit to U.S. threats,'' Aziz told a news conference during a break in the talks. ``If we face aggression, we will defend our country.''
After the Sept. 11 suicide attacks in the United States, Russia joined the U.S.-led anti-terrorism coalition and backed Washington's military operation in Afghanistan.
Moscow has repeatedly warned the West of the threat posed by Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers, accused by Washington of harboring Saudi-born militant Osama bin-Laden, held responsible for the attacks.
Russia has maintained close ties with Iraq and is trying to recover Soviet-era debts of about $9 billion. It is deeply suspicious of U.S. plans to extend military action to other countries suspected of backing international terrorism. Washington lists Baghdad among its prime suspects.
``The struggle against terrorism should be based on a firm legal basis and the U.N. should play a coordinating role in the joint international effort,'' Ivanov said. ``That is why Russia sees as unacceptable a mechanical spread of the anti-terrorist operation to any other country, including Iraq.''
``If such a thing occurred, this would not only weaken the anti-terrorist coalition but also help extremist forces which want to ruin this coalition and aim at using contradictions among its members to achieve their goals.''
The dispatch of inspectors, intended to determine whether Baghdad held chemical and biological weapons, was part of the U.N. action against Iraq undertaken after the 1991 Gulf War to eject Iraq from Kuwait.
The action, authorized by U.N. Security Council resolution 681, also included economic sanctions against Iraq.
Asked if Baghdad was ready to bow to U.S. pressure and allow the inspectors back, Aziz said: ``If you want a solution, you have to want a package -- we support that.''
``We will carry out our obligations, but let others carry out their obligations in accordance with the U.N. Security Council's resolutions,'' he added.
Ivanov reiterated Russia's support for lifting sanctions against Iraq, which he described as ``counterproductive.'' He welcomed dialogue between Baghdad and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, started last year.
``Any solution should state clearly the prospects and conditions for lifting sanctions as envisaged in the U.N. Security Council's resolution,'' he said.

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