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#1 - JRL 7135
US Had Demanded Russian Diplomats Leave Baghdad - Report
April 8, 2003

MOSCOW (AP)--Russian diplomats who came under fire as they fled Baghdad headed to Moscow on Tuesday, and a media report claimed that Washington had demanded they leave on suspicion the embassy had aided Iraqi forces.

The Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry and U.S. Embassy in Moscow all declined to comment on the report.

Russia's ambassador to Iraq, Vladimir Titorenko, has accused U.S. troops of firing on his convoy outside Baghdad, but U.S. officials have insisted that it was still unclear who was responsible for the shooting, in which Moscow said at least four people were wounded.

The business daily Kommersant reported Tuesday that Russian diplomats left Baghdad after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell "repeatedly and persistently" demanded their evacuation.

Kommersant also quoted an unidentified Russian Defense Ministry official as saying that Washington had demanded the embassy's evacuation because it suspected Russian diplomats were providing technical assistance to Iraqi forces defending Baghdad.

The official said the U.S. believed a jamming device was located on the Russian Embassy grounds and was deflecting U.S. precision weapons, Kommersant reported. Moscow has denied the existence of such a device, the newspaper said.

The shooting incident came amid Russian and U.S. efforts to ensure that their differences over the war, which Russia opposes, don't ruin their relationship. During a rare solo trip abroad, U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice gave assurances to President Vladimir Putin and other top officials Monday that Washington values its partnership with Moscow.

Titorenko and most of the diplomats crossed into Tanef, Syria, on Monday afternoon. A medically equipped Russian government plane was taking them to Moscow on Tuesday.

One of the Russian diplomats underwent surgery and was at an Iraqi-controlled hospital in Fallujah, 50 kilometers west of Baghdad, on Monday, and another diplomat stayed with him.

Mikhail Margelov, head of the international affairs committee in the Russian parliament's upper house, told Channel One television that he met Tuesday with U.S. Ambassador to Moscow Alexander Vershbow to discuss possible U.S. assistance in evacuating the two Russians remaining in Fallujah.

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