#5 - JRL 7205
Russia dismisses U.S. weapons lab proof claim
MOSCOW, June 2 (Reuters) - Russia dismissed on Monday U.S. efforts to present its discovery of a mobile laboratory as an example of Iraq's banned weapons programme, saying only U.N. scientists could officially certify weapons as illegal.
U.S. President George W. Bush, at a joint news conference with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, said on Sunday that the truck, which Washington says could be used to make biological weapons, was part of a "weapons system."
Washington used Iraq's supposed weapons programme as justification for its invasion of the country, but has since failed to find any nuclear, biological or chemical arms.
"The only information we have about weapons in Iraq is concerning this mobile laboratory that could make biological weapons," Yuri Fedotov, a deputy foreign minister with responsibility for Iraq, told Interfax news agency.
"However, even American experts recognise that there were no traces of biological agents in this trailer," he added.
Russia opposed the war against Iraq, and last month Putin snubbed British prime minister and key U.S. ally Tony Blair, mocking the failure to find any banned arms.
But at their Sunday press conference Putin and Bush were conciliatory, saying they wanted to put differences over Iraq behind them.
Russia backed a U.N. resolution last month which lifted sanctions against Iraq, scrapping calls for the United Nations to have a key role in ruling Iraq, but Fedotov said the resolution had not drawn a line under the dispute.
"Russia thinks that the question of disarming Iraq is still open, and we need to agree how to close it," he said. "We proceed from the position that anything found in Iraq, under international law, should be certified by UNMOVIC and IAEA."
UNMOVIC and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are the international bodies that were charged with hunting for banned weapons in Iraq. Washington has dismissed calls for them to be given a role in scouring Iraq for former president Saddam Hussein's weapons.
Fedotov said Russia, which takes over chairmanship of the U.N. Security Council in June, wanted to hear a formal account of the U.S. hunt for banned weapons in Iraq at the body's meeting on Thursday.
Russian companies, which traditionally have had close trade ties with Iraq, would be happy to exploit the end of the embargo and move back into the oil-rich country, Fedotov said.
"(The) resolution...gives us the opportunity to try to secure, and maybe even strengthen the economic and trading positions of those of our companies that traditionally worked with Iraq," he said.
Several Russian companies, including oil giant LUKOIL (LKOH.RTS), signed contracts with Saddam's government, but could not work in Iraq because of the international embargo.