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#9 - JRL 7218
Russia protests U.S. strikes near its Iraq embassy

MOSCOW, April 2 (Reuters) - Russia summoned the U.S. ambassador to Moscow on Wednesday to protest against air strikes on Baghdad that it said had endangered the safety of its diplomats in the Russian embassy.

The protest is the latest sign of tension between the two former Cold War foes, with the Kremlin fiercely denouncing the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq as a mistake which could trigger a global crisis.

"The Russian side demanded that American authorities take urgent and exhaustive measures to prevent such dangerous and unacceptable incidents in the future," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement after envoy Alexander Vershbow had been summoned.

Referring to Wednesday's air strikes on a residential area near the Russian embassy, the statement said: "The safety of personnel of the Russian diplomatic representation was in immediate danger."

Russia has become increasingly virulent in criticising the U.S.-led military action in Iraq and civilian casualties despite a long period of warm relations between Moscow and Washington.

A U.S. embassy spokesman said the ambassador had explained that the air strikes on Baghdad used precision-guided weapons and were directed only at Iraqi military targets.

He dismissed suggestions that what have been increasingly warm relations between Washington and Moscow would be damaged by differences over Iraq, though he acknowledged these had caused some "bumps in the road."

"Bilateral relations are going to weather this storm," he said, pointing to mutual economic interests as well as the global fight against terror and use of weapons of mass destruction.

Russia, which has had close economic and oil-industry ties with Iraq, is among the few countries that have not evacuated their embassies in Baghdad. Some 26 personnel are still working in the embassy, according to Russian news agencies.

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