Russia Asks U.N. Leader to Visit Baghdad
By David Hoffman and Bradley Graham
Restating an idea floated earlier this week by President Boris Yeltsin, Primakov said the U.N. leader should go to Iraq to "make an attempt to come to an agreement and bring the matter to a political solution." After Yeltsin raised the idea, Annan said he had no plans to go.
[Annan said Friday that he was "fully prepared" to go to Baghdad -- but not until he heard from the Iraqis that they are ready "to work with us," the Associated Press reported. He also announced that he will send a technical team to Baghdad this weekend to "urgently" map the eight sites that Iraq has placed off-limits to U.N. arms inspectors.]
Today's was the latest in a series of proposals from Moscow to avert U.S. airstrikes against Iraq for blocking U.N. inspectors seeking evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Other proposals have included opening a limited number of suspected Iraqi weapons sites and broadening the U.N. inspection force.
But Russia's diplomatic proposals have been rejected in Washington.
Primakov spoke after a 105-minute meeting here with U.S. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen that was dominated by the Iraq crisis, according to a senior U.S. defense official traveling with Cohen. Primakov began by associating himself with remarks Thursday by Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev who, in front of Cohen and reporters, sharply criticized the U.S. approach as too rigid and impulsive and warned strongly against using force.
But the tone of today's U.S.-Russian session appeared markedly more low-key and businesslike than Thursday's politically charged confrontation.
Cohen, who afterward departed for Washington, cautioned Primakov against using diplomacy as a cover for delay, the defense official said, but neither leader indicated any deadline for their respective efforts toward resolving the Iraq crisis.
"It is difficult to convince one another of anything during conversations lasting 1 1/2 hours," said Primakov, who has tried to broker a compromise deal with his longtime friend, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Primakov and Cohen also discussed arms control, and Cohen earlier today viewed examples of U.S.-Russian efforts to cooperate in improving the security of nuclear weapons storage.
Primakov said he also spoke with Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright on Thursday night.
He told reporters today, "Russia believes we cannot say that diplomatic efforts have failed or deliver a verdict on this issue before the U.N. secretary general visits Baghdad."
Meanwhile, ultranationalist Russian leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, visiting Baghdad, made a televised appeal to Yeltsin to stop U.S. military plans for an airstrike. In a separate broadcast on Iraqi TV, Zhirinovsky let loose a fusillade of invective at the United States.
[In other developments Friday, the Netherlands said it decided to send a frigate to the Persian Gulf, stressing it would be used for military operations against Iraq only if all diplomatic efforts fail, news services reported. Argentina said it was prepared to contribute about 100 troops in noncombat logistical support roles.]
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