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U.S. and Russia Exchange Barbs Over Iraq at U.N.


UNITED NATIONS — U.S. Ambassador Madeleine Albright and Russian Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev exchanged bristling barbs Monday in a rare public session of the Security Council that laid bare the deep divisions at the United Nations over lifting sanctions on Iraq.

Kozyrev wants the Security Council to start discussing eventual lifting of sanctions, and Albright insists that sanctions cannot be lifted until Saddam Hussein earns the trust of the members by complying with all U.N. resolutions.

Kozyrev asked for the session to report on his Thursday meeting with Hussein in Baghdad, in which the Iraqi president announced his "readiness to resolve in a positive manner the issue of recognizing Kuwait's sovereignty and borders," and the Russian foreign minister promised to work toward lifting oil sanctions if Iraq cooperates for six months with a U.N. weapons-monitoring program.

Meanwhile, Tarik Aziz, the deputy prime minister who serves as Hussein's main voice to the West, ignored demands for proof that Iraq's promised recognition of Kuwait is genuine.

While both the American and Russian diplomats at the Security Council professed that their differences reflected the disagreements of close friends, the United Nations had not seen such open argument between a Russian and an American ambassador since the days of the Cold War.

Kozyrev, in fact, cast doubt on the Clinton Administration's perception of the recent Iraqi military maneuvers in the southern part of the country as a threat to Kuwait and to peace in the area. He did not, however, repeat his accusation, made to Moscow reporters, that the American military response had "an element of theatrical dramatization."

"A number of states, including Russia, had information concerning movements of troops planned by Iraq," the Russian foreign minister told the Security Council. " . . . And there were reports to the effect that Iraq was not planning to attack Kuwait. That information was available to many states."

This drew a sharp response from Albright. "I hope that no government on this council seriously doubts the danger that we avoided last week," she said. "The military threat was real."

She said that only the American-led military buildup had deterred the Iraqis. Although she did not offer any more details to the council, the Pentagon reported in Washington that Iraqi forces were continuing to retreat from the area around Nasiriyah where they had dug in during the weekend, easing the tensions in the region. Authorities said the withdrawal was likely to be over within a day or two.

Kozyrev had sharp comments for the swiftness with which American officials dismissed his agreement with Hussein. He said some of the condemnations came even before the officials had read the communique.

"I hope that these inadequate and misguided assessments can be written off as a result of the intensity of the crisis and of those emotions which overcame all of us at that time," he said.

The Russian foreign minister then repeated the argument of the communique: The Security Council should lift the embargo on oil if Iraq cooperates for six months with the U.N. monitors trying to make sure that Hussein does not embark on a massive rearmament program.

"The Security Council must be ready to take yes for an answer," he said. "If Iraq really complies with all the demands in all of the resolutions, then, of course, the present sanction system loses its sense."

Albright, however, repeated the longstanding American position that no matter what the fine print of the resolution, it makes no sense to lift any sanctions until Hussein complies with all resolutions.

"The basic premise we have heard from some," she said, "is that Iraq should be rewarded for partial compliance with some of its obligations. The council should categorically reject that approach. . . . Iraq must not be led to believe that it can choose in an a la carte fashion among these obligations."

She maintained, moreover, that Iraqi credibility is so low that if the United Nations followed Kozyrev's approach and lifted oil sanctions, Iraq could not be trusted to continue cooperating with a U.N. monitoring system afterward.

During the debate, in which French Ambassador Jean-Bertrand Merimee supported the Russian position and British Ambassador David Hannay supported the American position, almost all ambassadors insisted that Iraq must recognize Kuwait in accordance with the Iraqi constitution--through proclamations by Baghdad's Revolutionary Command Council and Parliament.

Although Deputy Prime Minister Aziz told reporters this was "under consideration," he made no such pledge to the Security Council.

This prompted Albright to tell the council, "We simply cannot trust words and stated intentions from an Iraq which has shown its continued disdain for adherence to its commitments. Words are cheap. Actions are the coin of the realm."

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