Yeltsin Says Bombing Iraq Might Bring 'World War'
By Daniel Williams
Yeltsin's statement was an alarming version of a message delivered repeatedly by his foreign policy advisers: Russia steadfastly opposes the use of force in Iraq. The reproach directed at Clinton was a new twist.
Speaking at a meeting with First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais, Yeltsin said he was trying "to somehow make Clinton understand that he might run into a world war by his actions.
"He's acting too loudly, too loudly," Yeltsin said. "You have to be more careful in a world that is saturated with all kinds of weapons, and sometimes in the hands of . . . terrorists. It's all very dangerous. And then to say right away, 'let's shower them with planes, then let's shower them with bombs' . . . no, it's not at all like Clinton, to put it frankly."
The tone was one Yeltsin periodically uses when publicly scolding his cabinet members. During the Cold War, such language might have put armed forces across the globe on alert.
In remarks that rambled at times, Yeltsin offered himself as a steady hand on the wheel of the crisis. "Bearing in mind my very close links" with the leaders of the United States, Germany and France, he said, "I could, of course, play a big role here."
He said that if the use of force against Iraq came to a vote in the U.N. Security Council, members would vote against it.
[The Clinton administration played down Yeltsin's comments. "We are confident that the purpose of Russian diplomacy is to pursue a diplomatic solution to this matter," White House spokesman Mike McCurry said.]
Iraq is a test case for Moscow's effort to restore the global influence it lost after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The campaign, spearheaded by Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, so far has been carefully calibrated to avoid conflict with the United States.
Yeltsin is known for making off-the-cuff foreign policy statements, sometimes to the distress of his aides. In the past, unexpected outbursts have been attributed to fatigue, illness or drinking.
Yeltsin's spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, used an unusual method today to try to calm international nerves over the "world war" remark. Before anyone had had a chance to write a story, he blamed the press. He accused American reporters with poor linguistic skills of misinterpreting Yeltsin's remarks to mean Russia would attack the United States. "It would be hard to imagine a more ridiculous, or let's say, absurd, interpretation," he said.
Yeltsin's statements came against the backdrop of conflicting reports on the progress of Russia's diplomatic mission to Baghdad. The Russians claimed on Monday that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had agreed to open eight presidential compounds to the inspection team, as long as the inspectors were designated representatives of Security Council members and diplomats from the council nations accompany them. The visits would be limited to buildings and would not include the area surrounding them.
U.S. officials dismissed the reported offer as inadequate. Cable News Network, citing unidentified sources, reported a variation of this offer today.
Immediately after Moscow announced the "breakthrough" on Monday, Iraqi officials denied there was a deal.
On Tuesday, Gennady Tarasov, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, shrugged off the contradiction as "information turbulence." Tarasov insisted that Russian special envoy Viktor Posuvalyuk had scored a breakthrough and would stay in Baghdad "as long as he needs to fulfill his mission successfully."
[As Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem traveled to Baghdad for talks to defuse the crisis, Ankara sharpened its tone against Iraq, saying a U.S. strike would be justified if Baghdad failed to comply with U.N. resolutions, special correspondent Kelly Couturier reported. "If Iraq does not heed our warning . . . a U.S. operation to enforce U.N. resolutions will have some sort of justification," Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz told reporters.]
Russian officials insist they are as eager as the United States to ensure the elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The difference, the Russians argue, is that American tactics will not work. "The strategy of military strikes on Iraq will not achieve the desired results," Tarasov said.
Moreover, Tarasov added, the United States must get new authorization from the Security Council for military action -- a position Washington does not accept. He did not say whether Russia would use its Security Council veto if the issue was taken up there.
The Russians say that, thanks to six years of U.N. inspections, Iraq's capacity to produce nuclear weapons has been eliminated. Iraq also has accounted for 115 out of 117 missiles in its arsenal and, in any case, no delivery systems exist to propel the rockets. As for chemical weapons, "although some questions still remain . . . the picture is pretty clear," Tarasov said.
The biological weapons program is still in question, he added. Nevertheless, further inspections must be carried out with respect for the "sovereignty, national dignity and lawful interests" of Iraq, Tarasov concluded. This language is similar to the formulation Iraq used when it curbed inspections of presidential compounds.
The Iraq issue has quickly become a domestic political cause among Russian politicians. Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist leader, said that in this atmosphere, the parliament should not ratify the long delayed START II strategic arms limitation treaty. "Americans act like drunk cowboys," he said. "They have lost all sense of propriety. To consider a treaty that deprives the country of its nuclear protection -- this is something no self-respecting politician will do."
Ultra-nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky called on Yeltsin to put troops in southwest Russia on alert. Liberal politicians also are opposed to bombing Iraq, arguing that Washington must get further U.N. authorization before launching any attack.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company