Putin Again Rejects U.S. Calls for Support of a War
Fearing Effect on the Mideast
By Michael Wines
New York Times
Saturday 01 March 2003
MOSCOW, Feb. 28 - Once again and with fervor, President Vladimir V. Putin today rebuffed American calls to support a possible military campaign in Iraq, arguing in an interview that war could throw the Islamic world into turmoil and that "a crisis of this kind should be solved by exclusively peaceful means."
But with equal fervor, the United States now appears to be pulling out all its diplomatic stops in a drive to win a crucial swing vote in the Iraq standoff in the United Nations.
American officials have begun what one called the endgame in the Iraq debate this week with a blitz of meetings and conversations with their Russian counterparts. Their message has been that Russian support for the United States could reap tangible benefits in the two nations' new relationship - and that opposition could leave the Kremlin on the sidelines when reconstruction of Iraq begins after the ouster of Saddam Hussein.
This intensive courtship reflects the White House's judgment that winning Russian support or neutrality would leave France and China, two other opponents of a military campaign, in the minority among the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
Equally important, officials said, Russian support could persuade smaller nations on the 15-member Council to back the resolution now supported only by the Americans, British, Spanish and Bulgarians.
Since Sunday, Under Secretary of State John R. Bolton has pleaded the White House's Iraq case in Moscow before Russia's Foreign Ministry, and President Bush has lobbied Mr. Putin by telephone. Mr. Putin's chief of staff, Aleksandr Voloshin, held an extraordinary round of meetings this week with every major White House figure, from Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.
Bush administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, may fly later to Moscow to present Washington's arguments again to Mr. Putin and Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov, who today in Beijing seemed eager to remind the United States that Russia has veto power in the Security Council, and may use it.
The Americans face a Kremlin seemingly insistent that the interests of peace - and of Russia - can be met only through global consensus in bodies like the United Nations.
"They do understand that how they decide on Iraq is going to have some consequences for U.S.-Russian relations," an administration official said this week of the Russians.
The United States is wooing Mr. Putin with some long-sought inducements.
A second administration official said Mr. Bush had elevated Congressional repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which ties Russian trade preferences to its citizens' freedom to emigrate, to one of his top two legislative priorities.
The amendment is largely symbolic in post-Soviet Russia. But it has been a constant irritant in diplomatic relations and a symbol, to some Russians, of continuing American disdain. Mr. Bush now pledges a repeal by June.
The State Department answered another major Russian concern today when it designated three Chechen militant groups as terrorist organizations subject to American sanctions. The announcement was the clearest evidence to date of the United States' growing agreement with Russia that the Chechen conflict - Russia's biggest international black eye - is not a purely internal rebellion, but is stoked by foreign-financed terrorists.
Beyond those symbolic gains, American officials are arguing, Russia risks real losses should it take the wrong side in what seems likely to be a one-sided war in Iraq.
Other American officials have stated - while insisting that there is no quid pro quo - that Iraq's $8 billion foreign debt to Russia and Russia's multibillion-dollar contracts in Iraqi oil fields are at risk should Russia block a Security Council resolution.
"What we've said is that if you are legitimately concerned with recouping your $8 billion of debt, and if you are interested in economic opportunities in a liberated Iraq, then it would be helpful if you are part of the prevailing coalition," an American official said this week.
So far, Russia appears unmoved by American blandishments. In addition to Mr. Ivanov's blunt threat of a Russian veto, Mr. Putin said in an interview published tonight in the Bulgarian newspaper Trud that the Islamic world from Pakistan to North Africa "may be swept by instability" should America launch a war without global approval.
Mr. Putin, who has backed the French and Germans in arguing for more time for disarmament inspections and was visited this week by Chancellor Gerhard Schr der of Germany, argued that Russia's stance against a quick conflict was backed overwhelmingly by the rest of the world.
"I would like to hope that the basic principles of international law will be observed by all members of the international community," he said, "and that on this basis, we can find solutions admissible for everyone without bringing it to a split not only of the international community, but of the antiterror coalition."
The Kremlin went a step further tonight, posting a statement on its Internet site denouncing as "completely unjustified" United States and British attacks on targets in Iraq's no-flight zones. The statement urged "maximum restraint" on all parties.
The Kremlin has also been working on its own with Iraq, sending a longtime friend of Mr. Hussein, former Foreign Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov, to Baghdad last Sunday on a one-day mission whose nature is still not publicly known.
One American official, noting that Mr. Primakov helped secure a monthlong delay in the beginning of the first Persian Gulf war in 1991, called him "a pain in the neck."
Despite all that, American officials have been consistently optimistic that Russia will eventually drop its opposition to a resolution authorizing war.
Indeed, in Kiev three weeks ago, Mr. Putin delivered what many saw as a thinly veiled warning to Iraq that Russian opposition to war had its limits.
Should Iraq not comply fully with United Nations demands to disarm, he said then, "We intend to work with other Security Council members, including the United States, to work out other solutions - I won't say what kind, but tougher than the existing solutions."
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