Russia, France, Turkey Balking on Iraq
By Daniel Williams
MOSCOW, Feb. 2 As Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright continued her mission seeking the support of Persian Gulf states for possible air strikes against Iraq, Russia, France and Turkey today intensified separate diplomatic initiatives aimed at averting military action.
Russian officials claimed a breakthrough in their talks with Iraq, saying Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had given qualified permission for U.N. representatives to visit eight presidential sites that were previously off-limits to the U.N. weapons inspection teams.
Iraq, however, dismissed the Russian report as "totally, totally incorrect." Iraq's undersecretary for foreign affairs, Riyadh Qaysi, told a news conference that "no such thing was discussed" between Saddam Hussein and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Posuvalyuk in talks in Baghdad tonight.
Qaysi added: "Discussion with Mr. Posuvalyuk is still going on to find a diplomatic and political solution to the crisis. I am not going to provide you with even a shade . . . of what is being discussed. Discussions are going on and this is a good thing."
Officials at the Kremlin and Russian Foreign Ministry, who earlier were hailing the offer as a triumph for Russian diplomacy, stopped answering telephone calls after word of Iraq's denial of a deal reached Moscow.
Senior Clinton administration officials reacted coldly to the Russian plan. "I don't think it's an appropriate solution at this time," Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen said at the Pentagon.
Asked about the Russian proposal following her talks with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah in Riyadh, Albright said: "Having kind of piecemeal inspections, that does not strike me as meeting the basic standards that we have been talking about for so long."
President Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin discussed Iraq during a 20-minute phone conversation today. A White House official said Clinton stressed to Yeltsin "the need for unity" among U.N. Security Council members in seeking to force Iraq to accept full access by U.N. weapons inspection teams.
"The president agreed with Yeltsin on the desirability of a diplomatic solution" to the standoff, the official said. "But Clinton said that Saddam Hussein's continued defiance of the inspection teams is unacceptable."
A French envoy reportedly is to set out for Baghdad from the Jordanian capital, Amman, on Tuesday. French President Jacques Chirac dispatched top Foreign Ministry official Bertrand Dufourcq to Iraq as part of an apparent French gambit to reach a diplomatic settlement.
A French presidential spokeswoman said Dufourcq was carrying a "very firm" message to Saddam Hussein that he must begin cooperating with the United Nations, the Reuters news agency reported. She said Chirac and Yeltsin discussed the Iraqi crisis during a 30-minute phone conversation Monday night.
"France and Russia continue to favor a diplomatic solution to resolve the crisis and obtain Iraq's full respect for Security Council resolutions," said the spokeswoman, who was not identified. "The French and the Russians are continuing their cooperation with other Security Council members to assure unanimity in the firmness of their approach to Iraq."
Marc Grossman, U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs, who was in Ankara today for talks with Turkish government and military leaders, voiced doubt that any of the diplomatic initiatives could successfully end the crisis. "Whether they be Turkish, French or Russian, if [the diplomatic initiatives] can produce a result, well, we would welcome that," he said. "But I must say that we are skeptical, given the past Iraqi behavior."
Nonetheless, Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem announced he will travel to Iraq later this week. "We don't want our children to be threatened by weapons of mass destruction," he told reporters. "But we don't want a war either."
U.S. Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a member of the visiting U.S. delegation in Ankara, said the United States has not formally asked Turkey for use of its southern Incirlik air base for a possible bombing campaign against Iraq. "No decisions have been made on the use of force," Ralston told reporters, "and as a result, we have made no new requests to the Turkish military." But Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Sezgin held open the possibility that Turkey would give its permission. "We have not received any such request up until now. If a request came then we would evaluate it," he said at a news conference.
Egyptian state television reported that Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf will visit Cairo in the next two days for talks. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who is to meet with Albright in Cairo on Tuesday, discussed the crisis with 13 Arab leaders, the TV report said.
Faced with rising tensions in the Persian Gulf, Israel today deployed four batteries of U.S. Patriot missiles on a hill in its southern Negev desert. The missiles were installed above the city of Arad, about 27 miles from an Israeli nuclear reactor that was the apparent target of some of the 39 Scud missiles that Iraq fired at the Jewish state in the 1991 Gulf War.
The Israeli army, which first refused to comment on the deployment, later called it a routine training drill.
Russia repeatedly has opposed threats made by the United States and backed by Britain to bomb Iraq if Saddam Hussein does not grant U.N. inspectors unhindered access to sites they suspect are used for storage and development of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons or missiles capable of delivering them.
"An evident shift in Iraq's position was achieved due to Russian diplomacy," said Sergei Yastrzhembsky, president Boris Yeltsin's spokesman, before Iraq issued its denial. "Diplomatic efforts to settle the situation have not been exhausted."
According to Tass and the Interfax news agency, Saddam had agreed to permit inspectors access to the eight sites, all of which are presidential compounds, so long as the team included technicians from of each of the five permanent member states of the U.N. Security Council the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France. The inspections would also have to take place in the company of diplomats from each of the five. In effect, the plan would suggest that the inspectors represent not the United Nations, but their countries of origin.
The Iraqi leader put a further condition on the visits: Although the inspectors would be permitted to visit the buildings, they could not inspect the territory surrounding them, according to an account issued by Interfax. That would fall short of the U.S. and British insistence that the inspectors have unlimited access.
Correspondents Barton Gellman in Riyadh and Lee Hockstader in Jerusalem and staff writers Bradley Graham and Edward Walsh in Washington contributed to this report.
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