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#10 - JRL 7179
Powell's Moscow talks 'critical' for Russia-US relations
May 12, 2003

US Secretary of State Colin Powell arrives in Moscow Wednesday bracing to overcome Russian objections to a lifting of UN sanctions on Iraq and to face insistent demands that the United Nations be given a major role in Iraqi reconstruction.

With Russia-US relations badly damaged by the dispute over the war in Iraq, the talks between Powell and his counterpart Igor Ivanov -- the highest level contacts between the two countries since the war ended -- will be critical for future developments, analysts said.

Powell's visit, ostensibly to prepare a Russia-US summit in Saint Petersburg on June 1, comes just two weeks after British Prime Minister Tony Blair received a public rebuff from President Vladimir Putin over the same issues.

Russia, along with France, is seeking a central role for the world body in the reconstruction of Iraq, still without a stable administration more than a month after the end of a US-led invasion that shattered much of the country's infrastructure.

Washington, despite a pledge by Blair and US President George W. Bush that the UN would be given a "vital role" in Iraqi reconstruction, has shown little inclination to define such a role or even to allow UN weapons inspectors to return to resume their work in seeking out Iraq's supposed stock of weapons of mass destruction.

The UN Security Council is this week due to discuss a draft US resolution that would lift sanctions imposed on Iraq in 1990 and enable Washington and its allies in effect to run the country and control its oil revenues for at least a year.

Powell said in Jerusalem Saturday that the draft had received a "good response" when first circulated at the United Nations the day before.

However the Security Council consultations next Thursday could see a similar split to that which stymied US efforts last March to secure UN backing to use force in disarming Iraq.

A US envoy sent to Moscow Thursday to present the draft resolution drew a blank from Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov who conceded that sanctions that blocked humanitarian aid should be removed but insisted that a complete end to the economic blockade should take place in line with existing UN resolutions.

This was diplomatic code for an insistence that UN inspectors should be allowed back to Baghdad to certify that it has no weapons of mass destruction.

Moscow's position is broadly backed by France and China, fellow veto-wielding members of the Security Council that also opposed the US-led invasion.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yury Fedotov said Saturday that his Chinese counterpart Yang Wenchang was due in Moscow on Thursday for talks on Iraq, saying the two countries would seek to play a "constructive role" in the talks and would bear in mind "the need to restore unity" in the world body.

Fedotov also held talks with the French ambassador to Moscow Claude Blanchemaison in which both sides agreed on the need for "a quick lifting of current sanctions on Iraq" but stressed "the importance of guaranteeing a major participation for the UN in the (Iraqi) postwar process."

Analyst Pavel Felgenhauer noted however that the current Russia-US stand-off is "not just about Iraq but also about the future of a multipolar world."

The Powell-Ivanov talks could be critical for future relations, he warned.

Putin held talks Saturday with Ivanov, Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov and other top foreign policy officials, and their basic choice is: whether to continue with current policies, or to seek ways to end the confrontation, the analyst noted.

"It is clearly not in Russia's interest to have the confrontation continue. But there is a lot of uncertainty, not to mention the opposing factions in the administration, and probably not even the Kremlin knows yet what line it will take," he said.

A parallel debate has been taking place in the US administration, with some factions prepared to "forgive" Moscow its opposition to the US campaign to overthrow the regime in Baghdad and others calling for US-Russia relations to be reviewed.

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