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Thursday, February 12, 1998 Published at 17:16 GMT

World: Europe

Russia warns US against military action
image: [ Cohen (left) and Sergeyev: the smiles belie the tension between the two countries ]
Cohen (left) and Sergeyev: the smiles belie the tension between the two countries

Russia has told the United States that relations between the two countries will be adversely affected if Washington goes ahead with its plans for a military strike against Iraq.

The comments were made by the Russian Defence Minister, Igor Sergeyev, at the start of talks in Moscow with the American Defence Secretary, William Cohen.

As talks between the two men began, Marshal Sergeyev told Mr Cohen that he wanted to relay Moscow's deep concern over the possible prospects for bilateral relations in the military field, especially if a strike against Iraq went ahead.

He called the stand being taken by the United States "tough and uncompromising".

Mr Cohen responded by saying he agreed it was appropriate to ask about the possible consequences of military action, but it was necessary also to consider what would happen if Iraq was allowed to continue blocking UN weapons inspections.

Earlier, Mr Cohen had said there was no definite timetable for a military strike against Iraq, although he thought that American forces in the Gulf would be ready within the next seven to ten days.

He insisted that despite the military build-up, there was still room for a diplomatic solution.

Questions over sales of weapons-making equipment

During his talks with Russian officials, Mr Cohen asked questions about a controversial report in the Washington Post newspaper.

It suggested that in 1995 the Russians agreed to sell to Iraq equipment that could be used to make biological weapons.

Moscow has denied the report, saying it is a crude invention.

Mr Cohen said there would have to be further investigations into the exact nature of the equipment.

The Russians insist that it is still possible to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Iraq.

Mr Cohen is listening to what he is being told, but for his part he is making it clear that time is running out.

He says there is still room for a peaceful settlement but the window of opportunity is now beginning to close.

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