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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 5 March, 2003, 10:54 GMT
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Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told the BBC's Talking Point that Russia has not ruled out the use of its veto in the UN Security Council to prevent a war in Iraq.

Answering your e-mail questions Mr Ivanov added: "Abstaining is not a position Russia can take, we have to take a clear position and we are for a political solution".

Mr Ivanov was in London to meet his UK counterpart Jack Straw and goes on to France to speak to French ministers.

Last week Russia, together with France and Germany, submitted a proposal at the UN for step-by-step disarmament of Iraq.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov answered your questions in a special edition of Talking Point.


Transcript:


Bridget Kendall:

Hello and welcome to this special Talking Point. I'm Bridget Kendall and today I'm joined by Igor Ivanov, the Russian foreign minister. He's here in London for talks with the British Government at a crucial time in the crisis over Iraq. And that of course is what we, and the thousands of you from across the world who have sent us e-mails, want to ask him about.

Russia has been playing a vital role in the negotiations at the United Nations. It is one of the five permanent members of the Security Council who could block any resolution by using its veto. And like France, Russia has been openly critical of the second resolution proposed by America Britain and Spain, aimed at paving the way for military action against Iraq.

But does that mean Russia might really use its veto to prevent a war? And what is Russia's wider view on this crisis? Mr Igor Ivanov is with me now. Foreign Minister Welcome.

I'll put the first question to you, which is one which we've had from thousands of people who've contacted us. This is what most people want to know: This question is from Diogo Pereira, Brazil: I would like to know whether Russia would be prepared to use its veto power to block a unilateralist US attack on Iraq?


Igor Ivanov:

To be honest, I'm surprised why such attention is paid to this issue of veto - whether there will be veto or not. The Russian suggestion is entirely something else. Over the recent time, we have been trying to achieve unanimity in the Security Council because only unanimity will provide success in the solution of the Iraqi problem.

If you remember that Russia has made a lot of efforts to make sure that inspectors returned to Iraq. When such a decision was reached we believed that there was no need for a new resolution. Nevertheless when the USA and Britain suggested a draft resolution, in order not to break the unity of the council we agreed and it was voted for by everybody. And all the time we look for solutions which would allow for joint actions in the solution of the Iraqi problem because this is where we see the solution.

In the past when positions differed and Iraqi used that it abused the differences in the Security Council and it managed to avoid the solution. If we preserve unity that would be the best guarantee that we will solve the problem of Iraq.


Bridget Kendall:

You must admit that at the moment the Security Council is deeply split about this question of a second resolution, how can you possibly achieve unity?


Igor Ivanov:

There are various approaches, you are right in that. One approach, and Russia supports that, and the majority of other members of the Security Council that the solution of the Iraqi problem has to be achieved through political means.

There are others who believe that political opportunities have been exhausted and that force has to be used and such a position is reflected is reflected in the draft resolution submitted by USA, Britain and Spain.

We believe that there are opportunities for continuing political efforts and we are continuing to work at the Security Council in the direction to persuade our partners that it is necessary to continue the work of the inspectors and to look for a political solution.

At the same time, we have possibilities and we are still flexible. Today to opt for military action when there are still all possibilities to solve it politically with the use of inspectors, we believe it would be a mistake.

We are saying to our partners that this would a mistake and we warn them against this mistake so that our partners will not make this mistake. And of course Russia, if somebody should take such a decision to go to war against Iraq, Russia would not support such action.


Bridget Kendall:

If you say that this is a mistake, but American officials are saying that there's still hope that they can introduce this resolution for a vote next week. Say they get nine votes in favour, would Russia use its veto?


Igor Ivanov:

You know I don't like to speculate and to cast about theoretically because I rely on facts. But I can say one thing, that Russia will not support any decision which would directly or indirectly open a way to war against Iraq.


Bridget Kendall:

But you don't exclude using your veto?


Igor Ivanov:

I do not rule anything out because the right of veto is the right which can be used by any permanent member of the Security Council, including Russia, and if this is necessary Russia can resort to using this right.


Bridget Kendall:

Denis Mikhailov, from Russia asks: Western experts say that Russia will abstain in the end from using its veto during the voting in the Security Council. They say Moscow is only trying to blackmail the West and hopes to get benefits out of such tactics. What do you say to this?


Igor Ivanov:

I regret that such a decision arrived from Russia because in Russia everybody must know we are pursuing every consistent policy over the duration of the whole crisis. We don't speculate, we don't trade in anything, we don't do any behind the scene games. We have a clear aim which was set from the very beginning to achieve the full disarmament of Iraq and for that Russia has already done a lot. And we believe that it is possible to achieve such an aim and this is why the Russian position involves no games.

This is why I believe that in the current situation - a critical situation - to abstain is not a position which Russia could take. Russia has to take a clear position and we are for a political regulation.


Bridget Kendall:

But it does seem as though Russia is in something of a difficult position. It is one thing to threaten to use the veto, it's quite another to actually use it and see the UN split as a result. You've said right at the beginning of this interview that what Russia wants to see is unity.


Igor Ivanov:

Why do you believe that Russia is in a difficult situation? Aren't those who want to introduce a resolution in order to justify a beginning of a war against which the vast majority of the states of the world, are. I think in a difficult position are those who are now through various ways, including through a second resolution are trying to find justification for their actions which currently have no justification.

At the moment I repeat there are all the opportunities to regulate the Iraqi situation through political means and to try to pretend that there are no such opportunities and to submit a resolution which can really lead to a split of the Security Council because the majority of the council at the moment are for a political regulation. I think that those who are submitting such a resolution are in the difficult situation and not those who would use their right of veto.


Bridget Kendall:

But tomorrow you're going to Paris where you'll be seeing the French Foreign Minister. How far are you co-ordinating with France?


Igor Ivanov:

Over the last two days I spoke to all the members of the UN Security Council - Colin Powell and the foreign ministers of France, Mexico, Britain, Gabon, Chile and so on. We have maintained relations with all of them. This is not one group against another group. I repeat we want to use the opportunity to the maximum in order to find united actions in regulating the Iraqi problem.

Yes with France or with China where I've just come from, we have very close positions. They are very close because they are based on a political approach to the solution of the Iraqi problem based on the full and strict compliance with the UN Security Council resolution.

Tomorrow I will be in Paris. This is a scheduled visit and of course and as in London where I have come, we have planned this visit several months ago. This visit originally was not because of the Iraqi problem but today it is dedicated to the Iraqi problem and of course the same with my trip to France. And of course we will discuss the Iraqi subject with France as well as with other Security Council members, we have very close position.


Bridget Kendall:

But are they identical with France's position and would you react if it came to a vote in the same way?


Igor Ivanov:

You know every country is sovereign and independent and at the end of the day it takes that decision by itself how to vote. We are not discussing issues of voting, we discuss our approaches and our position. As for positions and approaches, here we are very close. As for voting, this is up to every county, they take independent decisions.


Bridget Kendall:

Dmitriy, Russia/USA: Do you think it is possible to avoid military action at this point, and seek a diplomatic solution?

In particular I wanted to ask what about the Canadian compromise - so called. The Canadians have suggested putting off a decision until the end of March.


Igor Ivanov:

I think that a war can still be avoided although with every day it is more and more difficult - this reality which we have to take into consideration. However, I repeat that until there is at least one chance - at least 1% of a chance to avoid a war, diplomats have to work actively, especially with consideration that every day we see new rallies and new demonstrations of real advantage in the disarmament of Iraq. This is why I think that the Canadian proposal - we haven't discussed it yet - but altogether the direction of their proposal, we can understand it and support it. Their meaning is to give the inspectors an opportunity to continue to carry out their mission.

It's very hard for me to speak of terms of dates - it could be a month or two - experts have to define the date. I'm not an expert in chemical or biological weapons. It is hard for me to say how long it will take to carry out an analysis of some chemical samples. There are certain laws in that. This is why we insist that Mr Blix and ElBaradei will submit on the 7th March a clear plan of work with a list of specific questions to which they have to answer. It could be 10, 20 or 100 questions but they have to be clearly defined questions and the dates have to be defined during which time they can answer this question then the world community will have the so-called plan of action which we can submit to the Iraqi authority and we can insist on its implementation.

So far what we asked Iraq to do, it has complied from the beginning with spy planes and the beginning of the destruction of al-Samoud missiles. What does it mean - it means that when we put a question clearly we can achieve its implementation. This is why inspectors have to formulate clearly their plan of action and the terms with which it has to be implemented then the world community will have a strong instrument of pressure on Baghdad.


Bridget Kendall:

So you're saying that you think this Canadian proposal with possibly a new deadline at the end of March would be something that you could support?


Igor Ivanov:

I said that we are ready to look positively at the very idea of the Canadian proposal. As for dates, we cannot define dates without knowing the opinion of the inspectors. The inspectors have to say whether they will have enough time by the end of March or whether they will need three or four months - they have to say that. And based on the opinion of inspectors we will take decisions.


Bridget Kendall:

Kunrat Wirasubrata, Saudi Arabia: What will Russia do if the US does invade Iraq despite a Russian veto or Russian objections?


Igor Ivanov:

First of all I want to stress once more that if the USA and those countries who will support them will resort against Iraq unilaterally against the decision of the Security Council that would be a serious mistake and that would have serious consequences. At the same time, I will be honest, I wouldn't like to answer this question because if I answer it then this would in effect mean that I have reconciled myself to the war. But I continue to believe that there are still, although minimal, but still chances to avoid a war.

However, I will answer your question. Any war whatever its scale has to end and the faster it ends the less suffering it causes and the fewer the destructions are and if it does take place, then Russia, together with the vast majority of the states will insist on stopping this war and to return the situation to the course of the political regulation.


Bridget Kendall:

Laurie, USA: If the US doesn't receive support from the UN for war and goes ahead with a unilateral attack on Iraq, will Russia along with other opposing members put up a defence to protect Iraq from invasion?


Igor Ivanov:

At the moment we are for a political regulation of the situation around Iraq and we will continue to use only political methods in order to stop a war and to return the process into the channel of a political solution.


Bridget Kendall:

Julie Chowdhury, Indonesia: Where does Russia's strategic interest lie, with Europe or is it with the USA?


Igor Ivanov:

Taking into consideration that the question came from Asia, Russia's strategic interests are both in Europe and the USA. And of course in Asia our foreign policy has got several facets - we have a real interest in Europe and relations with European countries are one of the priority directions in our foreign policy.

Of course we are interested in developing partnership relations with the USA and we're convinced that those differences we may have in connection with the Iraqi situation will not affect the further development of our relations because we have more interest in bilateral relations.

And the third important direction in our foreign policy are our relations with China, India, Japan, Indonesia and many other countries in the Asia Pacific region because a large part of our country is in Asia and we're interested in developing trade with Asian countries.


Bridget Kendall:

Con Anastasopoulos, Australia: Doesn't Russia's long term strategic interest lie with the US? The greatest challenge Russia faces is in dealing with China. The current issue with Iraq will be over soon but the Chinese will remain.


Igor Ivanov:

Today in the conditions of the globalisation process, relations between states are such and mutually interwoven and mutually dependent that it is very difficult to say that it is possible to develop relations with one region and to sideline relations with another region.

We develop relations with all the states which want to and where we have a real interest. We have real interest in relations with the USA and with China and it this is very important - and I have just come back from China. The new Chinese leadership which has just taken over after the 16th party congress, that it confirmed continuity of beneficial relations with Russia. It fully coincides with our line and Russian relations with China will continue and that coincides with the interests of international stability.


Bridget Kendall:

Shauna, UK Do you feel there is any remaining Cold War adversity with the US which is perhaps why you chose to ally yourselves on this crisis with France?


Igor Ivanov:

We didn't choose any alliances. I think that the remnants of the Cold War are in this question and not in our actions because some people continue to think in the categories of blocked alliances. The Cold War is over and together with it the military blocks and alliances.

Today with France we share common positions. This doesn't mean that France is not the ally of the United States - by no means - or that Germany is not an ally of the USA. This is a mistake - quite the other way around. The new situation after the Cold War lies in that that every country can openly announce its political position and stand by it. But it shouldn't see it as going against somebody else. Defending our position on Iraq, this shouldn't be seen as a policy which is alien to the United States. We are partners. We warn our partner against mistakes. We don't want Washington to make such a mistake so that in future there will no consequences particularly for the interest of the USA.


Bridget Kendall:

Patrick, Taipei, Taiwan: Has your fundamental view of America changed at all as the result of the way its handled this Iraq crisis?


Igor Ivanov:

We stressed many times that the development of partnership constructive and predicable relations with the United States is our strategic course. At the same time we understood and understand very well that on this path we can have differences and we can have serious differences - for example, differences on the ABM Treaty.

You know that Russia was for the preservation of the ABM Treaty but the USA unilaterally left the treaty. But we managed to continue talking and also to continue the dialogue. Iraq is a serious exam for us. If we manage to pass this exam in such a way as to avoid damage to the bilateral relations, both Russia and USA will show by this, both to their people and to the international community, that we have reached a qualitatively new stage of cooperation and in any case this is how Russia will act.


Bridget Kendall:

But if you don't want your relations with the States to be affected, how can you put any influence on Washington on this issue?


Igor Ivanov:

The strongest mechanisms we have is the policy of persuasion. We must sustain a constant dialogue first of all. This is a dialogue between our presidents and foreign ministers, defence ministers. We have very many channels of dialogue.

And through dialogue and argument, we're trying to put across our points of view today. I think that we can convince others of our position through persuasion and we are trying to use this path. Not always we're successful but sometimes we are successful, sometimes not. But this is a process and at the end of the day even if we are not successful one shouldn't give up the dialogue and we will continue this dialogue.


Bridget Kendall:

Somu, USA If your country were ever to veto the second UN resolution would that reflect public opinion in Russia and would this be a turning point in Russian foreign policy?


Igor Ivanov:

I could emphasise two sides to this question. First in Russia the vast majority of people are against a war in Iraq. I recently met all the political factions in the state parliament, in the state Duma, and everybody subscribed to putting this policy against a war in Iraq.

On the other hand, it's also very important that there's no anti-American feeling in Russia. There were no rallies with anti-American slogans. This is why I think that no matter how the situation in Iraq develops, we must concede that if there is a war, if the USA unilaterally begins a war against Iraq, of course this would influence the Russian public opinion. There would be discontent in our country and the public opinion will not be happy.

However, our strategic interests are in developing these relations and I hope that through joint efforts we will manage to overcome the difficulties which we are facing.


Bridget Kendall:

So you're saying that whether Russia were to use a veto or to abstain in a second resolution, you think public opinion would support you?


Igor Ivanov:

I have already said that for Russia in such a serious question like a crisis around Iraq, to abstain is not a position which we can pursue. Because for Russia it is not indifferent to how this problem is solved and how the situation will develop further. It is most likely that Russia is not likely to abstain - Russia will take one position or another.

I have already said that the right of veto exists and every permanent member has got such a right. Russia has this right and if the situation requires this, Russia will of course use its right of veto as an extreme measure in order to avoid the worst development of the situation.


Bridget Kendall:

Paul, Brazil Is Russia's stance based on the business that Russia has conducted with Saddam Hussein in the past on oil interests and on the money Iraq owes them?


Igor Ivanov:

Russia has got economic interests in Iraq. Indeed, for many tens of years we have been cooperating with Iraq in the economic field. However, our position on the Iraq settlement is determined not by our economic interests there. And of course we would like to defend them but first of all by the interest of international security and stability. And our economic interest in this case, they're not defining, they're not in the first place - politics are in the first place and our interests of preserving peace and security in that region.


Bridget Kendall:

Yuri, Russia from BBCRussia.com who asks: Would Moscow offer Saddam Hussein asylum in Russia in order to stop the war?


Igor Ivanov:

On this factor, there are speculations and I would like to make an official statement that Russia has not offered asylum, is not offering asylum and will not offer such options neither to Hussein or leaders of any other states because we believe that this would be interference with the internal affairs of the state to which such an offer would be made.

You know that sometimes people say - some protagonists of the military action against Iraq - they say that, look at the moment nobody is already talking about disarmament, that Iraq should be disarmed - there's more talk that the regime in Iraq should be changed. And second that democracy should be established in Iraq which would then begin the democratisation process of the whole Arab world. This goes beyond any UN Security Council resolutions which were taken before.

A question arises who gave anybody rights to establish a democratic regime in other countries even if they would be called democratic regimes. In the time of the Soviet Union we had the experience when we tried to establish regimes loyal to our country and as you know this sad experience ended in quite a sad way. That's why we wouldn't - instead the aspect of revolution would be replaced by the aspect of democracy because the people on which such experiments would be placed, such people would pay a very high price for that.


Bridget Kendall:

While we've been talking Felix Ogagov, who's based here in Britain but I think he's from Russia. Who says: Does the Russian anti-war stand on Iraq indicate a change towards a liberalism in handling other military confrontations including the internal conflict in Chechnya?

We also had an e-mail earlier from Freda Saul, USA who had a similar question: Russia's biggest problem now seems to be the Chechen war against you. That being the case, why would you want to oppose a war against Iraq, which also has allegedly connections to many terrorist organizations?


Igor Ivanov:

In Chechnya, we're not talking about a war but about a political settlement of an internal problem - there's no war in Chechnya. What's happening in Chechnya is the fight against international terrorism and in parallel there's a process of political settlement.

On the 23rd March there will be a referendum in Chechnya on a new constitution then there will be presidential and parliamentary elections. And we're convinced that this process and the process of the political settlements will become stronger in future.

At the same time Russia is an active participant in the international terror coalition and we will cooperate actively with other countries against international terrorism. We believe that terrorism has no justification. Terrorism is not linked to any religion or any nation. They are criminals against whom people must fight and Russia will always side with those who fight against international terrorism.

Iraq is a different matter all together. The solution of the problem of Iraq is based on the UN Security Council resolution. Therefore we must comply with these resolutions. In Iraq what is at issue is that we must complete the process of the disarmament process. We are insisting that this has to be done but through political means.


Bridget Kendall:

George, USA What is Russia's position on North Korea's compliance on the nuclear program and what consequences should they face if they continue to violate these nuclear programme agreements?


Igor Ivanov:

There are several aspects to this issue. First Russia is for the non-nuclear status of the Korean Peninsula. Secondly, Russia is for strict compliance of the treaty on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Third, Russia believes that all the nuclear programmes in North Korea must be under the control of the international atomic energy agency. The interest of the security of Korea must be respected here. Therefore, putting forward demands in connection with the control over nuclear programmes, we must also solve the problem of security of North Korea. This is why we believe that direct dialogue is necessary between North Korea and the USA. As for Russia - together with China, South Korea and Japan - Russia is prepared to help such a dialogue.


Bridget Kendall:

Mesfin, Ethiopia Do you think Russia will become a world superpower once again? If so when?


Igor Ivanov:

Russia speaks for a multiple world in which all the states, small and big would have equal rights and in which the interests of every state would be respected equally. For that it is necessary to strengthen the UN, to ensure respect for the UN Charter and international law. If we manage to create such a multiple, democratic secure world order in that case a super state as a concept would cease to exist.


Bridget Kendall:

One final question foreign minister. Coming back to the Iraq crisis, what do you think will happen in view of this threat this week and in the coming week? Do you think that there will be a vote at the United Nations and that Russia will be forced to use its veto or do you think that diplomacy will extend longer than that?


Igor Ivanov:

I can tell you what I will do. I will continue to work 24 hours a day in order to look for a political way out of this crisis, both at the UN Security Council outside its bilateral levels and multilateral levels. I'm convinced that my colleagues will also do that.

On the 7th of this month, we will have a meeting of the Security Council at which we will listen to new reports from Hans Blix and Mr ElBaradei, the head of the international atomic energy agency and on the basis of their reports, we will put forward further actions. I think that Russia will be supported by many other members of the council. We will demand that international inspectors will continue their work in Iraq on the basis of a specific plan and specific dates.

I find it hard to say what Washington or London will do. Maybe while I'm holding talks, my colleague, Mr Straw, will tell you during our talks here.


Bridget Kendall:

Do you think that Russia and others could stop the US and Britain from bringing that resolution to a vote?


Igor Ivanov:

It seems to me that a vote on the draft resolution submitted by the USA, London and Spain would not benefit the search for a political solution to the Iraqi problem. I will be honest with you, I believe that it would be expedient not to put this question to a vote. I'm not the author of this draft - at the end of the day it is up to the authors of this draft whether it is submitted to a vote or not.


Bridget Kendall:

That's all we have time for today. My thanks of course to our guest, the Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, and to everyone who's taken part in today's programme with your e-mails. Don't forget that you can still keep sending your e-mails to talkingpoint@bbc.co.uk. And you can visit our website at bbcnews.com/talkingpoint, where you can watch or listen to this programme.

On Sunday, my colleague, Robin Lustig, will be here with the usual Talking Point at 1400 GMT. But for now from me, Bridget Kendall and the rest of the team, goodbye and of course to the Russian Foreign Minister, thanks again.




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