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Monday, 2 September, 2002, 20:40 GMT 21:40 UK
Moscow carves key role on Iraq
Saddam Hussein and senior officials
Russia says war against Iraq will destabilise the region

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri and his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov have been discussing ways of averting a possible military attack on Iraq by the United States.

Washington is seeking the support of the United Nations, and Russia's position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council is crucial.


Moscow would like to show Washington, and the world, that it is an indispensable mediator between the West and the so-called pariah states

Iraq sees Moscow as the strongest link in the chain of international opposition to possible US military action.

Addressing journalists after the talks, Mr Ivanov said that use of force against Saddam Hussein would further complicate the situation around Iraq and would destabilise the entire Middle East region.

In a departure from a usually friendly tone towards Washington, Mr Ivanov said Moscow has been meticulously studying Washington's arguments in favour of the military option but had failed to find a shred of evidence that Iraq was a threat to US national security.

Mr Ivanov said Moscow welcomed the continuation of the dialogue between Iraq and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

He hoped it would lead to the resumption of international weapons inspections in Iraq and consequently the lifting of international sanctions, imposed on Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait 12 years ago.

Political dividends

Baghdad has offered Russia a 10-year trade deal worth $40bn in the hope it would keep Moscow firmly on the Iraqi side in its stand-off with the US.

Vladimir Putin
Putin: Maintaining dialogue with so-called pariah states
Russia also expects to recover billions of dollars Iraq has owed since the Soviet era, hence Moscow's desire to see the sanctions lifted and its strong opposition to any military action against Baghdad.

But there are also political dividends to be had.

Moscow would like to show Washington, and the world, that it is an indispensable mediator between the West and the so-called pariah states.

By keeping up a dialogue with the likes of Iraq, Iran and North Korea, Russia says, it can achieve more than America with its sabre-rattling.

Fall-back

Another consideration is to save whatever is left of Russia's political influence in the region before Washington snaps it up as some politicians in Moscow expect.

Russian Foreign Ministry sources admitted that an embassy official in Washington recently met a member of the opposition Iraqi National Congress.

Some observers believe this was Moscow's way of prodding Baghdad to be more receptive to its advice.

Others suspect Russia may be looking for a fall-back position should Washington go ahead with its military action and topple Saddam Hussein.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nikolai Gorshkov
"Moscow has failed to find a shred of evidence that Iraq poses a threat"

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02 Sep 02 | Middle East
31 Aug 02 | Europe
30 Aug 02 | Middle East
30 Aug 02 | Media reports
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