Analysis: U.S.-Russia relations tested

By ELI J. LAKE, UPI State Department Correspondent   |   May 14, 2003 at 12:23 AM
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WASHINGTON, May 14 (UPI) -- Name the country that is helping rebuild a nuclear reactor for Iran and supplied night vision goggles and radar jamming equipment to Iraq's military right before the war. Here's a hint, it's the same state threatening to block a U.N. resolution to lift restrictions on the sale of Iraq's oil.

If this sounds like Syria or perhaps North Korea, think again. The distinction of expediting a nuclear program for one of the world's leading state sponsors of terrorism and selling military equipment to the soon-to-be vanquished army of Saddam Hussein goes to America's great partner in the war on terrorism: Russia.

These actions will loom over Secretary of State Colin Powell's visit to Moscow Wednesday, in his efforts to talk the Russians into supporting a U.S.-led alliance resolution in the U.N. Security Council that seeks to enlist the world body's help in rebuilding Iraq without giving it too much influence on shaping the country's political future.

The Bush administration also wants the U.N. to lift its trade sanctions against Iraq. But Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has said they should remain in place until U.N. weapons inspectors have declared Iraq free of weapons of mass destruction.

Powell will seek a clear indication from Moscow whether it still recognizes Saddam's regime as the official government of Iraq now that some senior Iraqi officials are negotiating terms of surrender to coalition troops.

Russian public statements play down apparent differences over Iraq, and insist they will soon be resolved. Ivanov said Monday, "Even at the height of the Iraq crisis (Russia and the United States) did not act against each other, but defended our different approaches to solving a very complicated international problem."

Even so, analysts point out no Russian official has yet offered Washington a satisfactory explanation of how advanced military products were shipped through Syria on the eve of the war against Iraq. According to a senior U.S. diplomat who briefed reporters last week, the Russian goverment has chalked the shipments up to rogue arms dealers.

The current Russian position on sanctions is in peculiar contrast to its reaction to a U.S. plan to narrow the list of items Iraq purchased that required special U.N. approval, proposed prior to September 11. For several months Ivanov would not even agree to the U.S. draft resolution on the grounds that this loosening of sanctions on Saddam Hussein's government was too constricting. Now that the man who built prisons for the children of his political enemies and employed professional rapists in his internal security services is on the run, Moscow wants to restrict the goods coming into the country? When Undersecretary of State John Bolton met with Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Memedov to discuss Moscow's support for pressuring the International Atomic Energy Agency to declare Iran out of compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty he was rebuked, according to U.S. officials, despite a detailed presentation on the Islamic Republic's clandestine Uranium enrichment programs.

This is the circle Powell must square Wednesday in his meetings with leading officials from the Soviet successor. So far, Powell has held his tongue when asked about the U.S.-Russia relationship. When asked about the Russian military sales to Iraq for example on March 24, he told Fox News only that he was "disappointed" in the Russian response to requests for information.

At the end of the Clinton administration, Congressional Republicans created a stir when the House discovered that Vice President Al Gore cut a secret deal with then Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin not to sanction the country for military sales to Iran. The argument was that the executive branch had been too soft on a country clearly aiding a sponsor of terrorism. Over one and a half years into the new war on terrorism, the President and his advisers should be asking whether they are getting too soft themselves.

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