The new countdown for both Iraq and the entire international community will begin on Wednesday, November 27, the day when international weapons inspectors are to return to Iraq after four years of absence. Their aim is to find out whether or not Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction.
According to the Russian authorities, at present the key thing is to create optimum conditions for the work of the international inspectors in Iraq and to ensure that their conclusions on Iraq's having weapons of mass destruction are clearcut and unambiguous. The future of Iraq can be discussed only after the inspectors deliver their report: either to lift sanctions against the country, or to disarm it, or to launch a military campaign. It means that the attitude and actions of both the inspectors and the Iraqis themselves will determine whether or not a new Gulf War will break out.
However, despite the declared independence of the inspections, their work in Iraq is conditioned by many factors. Among these are Iraq's long-term distrust of the United Nations and the United States, Washington's attitude and latent economic interests that certain countries have in Iraq.
The controversy between the parts broke out before the launch of the inspections. Let's recall that Resolution 1441 lays out strict conditions for the inspections: unhampered access to all the civilian and military sites and the possibility of talking to any Iraqi citizen if needed.
But having agreed to the inspections, the Iraqi government was quick to make a few reservations. Among other things it was noted that while cooperating with the international inspectors the Iraqi government "would take into account their conduct and hostile intentions, their improper attitude towards the respect for national pride of the [Iraqi] nation, its independence and security as well as the security, independence and sovereignty of the country." The first serious conflict may break out on December 8, the deadline by which Iraq must submit all the information on having weapons of mass destruction or carrying out military research programs. However, judging by Naji Sabri's letter to the UN Secretary General, Baghdad continues to deny having weapons of mass destruction. IAEA Director Mohamed El Baradei noted that if on December 8 Iraq continued to insist that it had no weapons of mass destruction then the IAEA would proceed with international inspections to make sure that the information was true and accurate.
However, Washington is not apt to trust Baghdad's statements. The United States has its own list of Iraq's violations in the field of developing and possessing weapons of mass destruction. Representatives of the American administration claim that they are not seeking to release the information on the list, because Baghdad does not know the exact intelligence data the United States has at its disposal and therefore is unable to take it into account while compiling its report.
Washington intends to show down only after December 8, when it will be possible to compare the two reports, those of Iraq and the United States. From the beginning Washington has been inclined to suppose that Baghdad has weapons of mass destruction and has been distrustful of the readiness to cooperate expressed by the Iraqi authorities. The United States does not rule out military settlement of the Iraqi conflict.
Unlike its American partners, Moscow hopes that the issue of Iraq's having weapons of mass destruction will be settled once and for all, and sanctions against the country will be lifted which will allow Russian and other companies to work freely in Iraq. Russian officials seek to make Iraq take no notice of possible provocation, but instead demonstrate, in fact not in word, the readiness for cooperation. Otherwise Russia was washing its hands and Iraq will face serious consequences.
Russia is trying to persuade the United States not to rush the course of events and wait for the results of the inspections. The inspectors are due to submit their first report on December 27. But even then it will be too early to judge the outcome. So, Moscow's task is to become a buffer between Washington and Baghdad, and try to convince the two countries of keeping their tempers and arming themselves with patience. However, Russia continues to express concern about the US ultimate goal in Iraq: the country's disarmament or a change of regime.
President Bush repeatedly stated that the only way to disarm Iraq completely was to remove the present regime from power. But a new regime, apart from saying that it is still unclear who can replace Saddam Hussein, means a lot of problems for Moscow. Firstly, the zone of Russia's influence will obviously shrink /although the issue of our influence in Baghdad is controversial/. Secondly, many Iraqi oppositionists are saying that they do not find it necessary to keep contracts with Russian or other foreign companies signed by the Hussein government. Although it is likely that Moscow has been given certain guarantees.
That's why in his interview with the NTV company on the eve of his visit to Russia US President Bush promised to take Russia's interests in Iraq into account. First of all such interests include keeping Russian companies' contracts in Iraq, especially in the oil industry, as well as ensuring that Iraq repays its debt. Back in summer Russia and the United States were rumored to have reached certain agreements on keeping Russia's contracts in Iraq, but for the first time such a promise was made publicly, especially at the top level.
American analysts note that Bush's public statement is a major sign that "Russia's interests will be protected, oil contracts will be respected and debts repaid, if a new regime comes to power in Baghdad." Of course, Bush's statement has no documentary proof, but politicians of such level are not apt to make idle promises.
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