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Iraq Special Report

  Yeltsin Warns U.S. Again on Using Force

By David Hoffman
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, February 6, 1998; Page A36

MOSCOW, Feb. 5 – President Boris Yeltsin strongly warned the United States again today against using force in Iraq, saying Russia "would not allow" a military strike and reiterating that it could lead to "world war."

The Foreign Ministry added that Russia would not "resort to extreme measures" in response to President Clinton's order to increase troop levels in the Persian Gulf.

"We should not allow an armed strike, an American strike, whatever the circumstances," Yeltsin told journalists on the eve of a planned visit to Italy and the Vatican. "I told Bill Clinton that we would not allow that." He added, "The most important thing is that we assumed a firm stand: no to the settlement through the use of force. It is impossible; it will mean a world war."

Russia for months has tried to broker a diplomatic resolution of the tension over Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's refusal to allow international inspections of locations where Iraq is believed to harbor weapons of mass destruction.

But Russia has taken a higher profile in recent days with Yeltsin's blunt, public warnings against a military strike, which were in marked contrast to the earlier diplomatic initiatives that skirted any collision with the United States. Yeltsin used the "world war" formulation Wednesday as well, and aides scrambled afterward, saying that it was not a threat of military retaliation.

Yeltsin's warnings dovetail with criticism of U.S. actions from Russia's nationalists and Communists in parliament. Unlike the confrontation with Iraq in 1990-91, there are few voices here today arguing for cooperation with the United States.

The Iraqi news agency INA reported today from Baghdad that the National Assembly had invited a group from Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, to visit some of the disputed sites -- the presidential palaces from which U.N. inspectors have been barred.

Yeltsin said today he saw the crisis easing slightly. "I am an optimist," he added. "We still cannot say with confidence that everything is all right, that another heightening of tension is out of the question. Nevertheless, the recent peak of tension was brought down a little. Tension is on the way down."

Yeltsin claimed Russia's position had attracted support from France and Italy. "Britain is still somewhat hesitant," he said, but added that in a telephone call on Wednesday, Prime Minister Tony Blair had promised not to send more military equipment to the Persian Gulf.

Russia's Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying the threat of U.S. military action remains.

Russia believes that "using force in Iraq or threatening to do so is extremely dangerous under any circumstances," the ministry said.

Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Posuvalyuk remains in Baghdad, where he has been negotiating with Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz. Earlier this week, Russian officials had called his mission a success, saying he had worked out a compromise allowing for the conditional inspection of eight sites. Iraq denied there was any deal.

Today, Interfax news agency quoted a Russian official saying the process was "at the start of the road" and that it was premature to conclude that Iraq's position had changed.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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