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#17 - JRL 7059
Vremya Novostei
February 12, 2003
An interview with US Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow
Author: Andrei Zlobin
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]


The Iraq situation is now extremely tense. Washington's statements are sounding more and more like declarations of war. Is war inevitable? We interviewed US Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow on this topic.

Alexander Vershbow: President Bush says that Saddam Hussein has a choice: he may stop his lies that have gone on for 12 years. He should cooperate with UN inspectors and provide them with all the necessary information about programs for creating weapons of mass destruction. In other words, Iraq should show it is ready to disarm, like Ukraine and the South African Republic. Saddam Hussein should act as a partner, not as an enemy. Saddam Hussein wants the international community to believe that he has destroyed 28,000 liters of anthrax cultures, 3,000 liters of botulism cultures, and thousands of tons of chemical poisons. But he is not a person to trust.

Question: What will happen if Saddam Hussein displays documents certifying that he has destroyed these substances? Would that help him retain power?

Vershbow: Theoretically, it would. If Saddam Hussein voluntarily consents to disarm, this would mean an automatic change of the regime - and would save his nation from suffering. But such a metamorphosis is hardly possible. He is more interested in holding on to his power.

Question: The US military operation against the Taliban, which sheltered Al Qaida, was supported around the world. Why isn't the operation against Iraq supported in the same way?

Vershbow: The international support for the probable military action is increasing. More and more leaders are coming to understand that the authority of the UN Security Council is under threat. And more and more people are coming to understand that Saddam Hussein does not intend to disarm, and this threatens the whole world. Turkey has supported the plans of the US and the coalition. European countries have signed a letter of support for the military action. Even the announcements of France have new aspects: Paris may support military action if necessary.

Question: Aren't the weapons of mass destruction hidden in Iraq less dangerous than the upcoming war?

Vershbow: That is a disputable issue, since this is not black and white. Any war is fraught with great risk, not only for the military. However, Saddam Hussein's support for international terrorism and his atrocities in governing Iraq over the past 30 years do not permit us to wait any longer. Besides, 15 countries voted for Resolution No. 1441. The resolution requires disarmament, not only international inspections. If Saddam Hussein keeps on ignoring the requirements of UN resolutions, any state would be able to ignore UN resolutions in the future. This will be a serious blow to Russia as well, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Question: Will Russia's economic interests suffer after the operation?

Vershbow: We respect Russia's economic interests in Iraq and take them into account. But we cannot give any specific guarantees, since it is the new government of Iraq that will decide such issues. Our position is based on equal conditions for all participants.

Question: Are Russian and American companies holding talks on dividing the future Iraqi market?

Vershbow: I don't think there are any secret negotiations on this issue. However, taking into account the developing cooperation between Russia and the US in the energy sphere, joint development of Iraqi projects is quite possible.

Question: Will the Iraqi model be applied to North Korea?

Vershbow: We don't work out any models. Any threat to international security should be eliminated, and its specific traits should be taken into account. Saddam Hussein is a special threat. But there may be some other situations when it will be necessary to prevent figures like Saddam Hussein from threatening the international community. We still believe in a political resolution of the crisis in North Korea, but we won't tolerate blackmail. We have announced on more than one occasion that we have no plans to intervene in North Korea. However, as Secretary of State Colin Powell said, nothing can be ruled out if Pyongyang does not wish to resolve the crisis peacefully. But despite Pyongyang's provoking demeanor, we still believe that it is not as dangerous as Baghdad. It is necessary that North Korea should follow the nonproliferation treaty and receive IAAE inspectors.

Question: Recently, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage announced that the US would not protest if Russia delivered pre- emptive strikes at guerrilla bases. Did he mean bases in Georgia? Did he make this announcement in order to soften Russia's position regarding Iraq?

Vershbow: Armitage's words have been interpreted in a singular way. He said that pre-emptive strikes may sometimes be part of US policy. As for the Georgian issue, he expressed his hope that it will be possible to reach an agreement between Moscow and Tbilisi by peaceful methods. Powell has cited some evidence that Al Qaida is linked with some forces in the Caucasus.

Question: Does this mean that Washington may include Chechen guerrillas on its list of terrorist organizations?

Vershbow: The decision about including some Chechen gangs on this list is to be made very soon.

Question: You worked in Moscow in the Soviet era. When was it more interesting: then or now?

Vershbow: Of course, it's more interesting in Moscow now... Russia's present policy regarding the US is more consistent. Of course, we have some disagreements, and we are discussing them actively. And when differences do arise, Russia's political leaders always try to come to some consensus. Soviet policy was also fairly consistent, but in terms of being difficult and confrontational.

Question: How will you name the chapter of your future memoirs devoted to Moscow?

Vershbow: I would title it "A Delightful Surprise", since this is the most interesting period in Russia's history. The rapid changes in Russian-American relations astound anyone who, like me, took Soviet politics and Soviet studies in college.

(Translated by Kirill Frolov)

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