#11 - JRL 7246
Russia protests at U.S. envoy's comments on Saddam
By Jeremy Page
MOSCOW, July 13 (Reuters) - Russia protested on Sunday over suggestions by the U.S. ambassador to Moscow that it was not cooperating in the hunt for Saddam Hussein in the second day of a frosty standoff over Iraq between the Cold War-era rivals.
U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow said on Saturday Washington could not guarantee the safety of Russia's embassy in Baghdad as it did not regard the staff as diplomats, prompting an angry response from Moscow.
In an interview with Interfax news agency, Vershbow was also quoted as saying Washington wanted Russia to give it information on the whereabouts of Saddam, his sons and supporters.
"We don't know what information Russia has, and which sources of information may be available to Russia, but we hope that as our cooperation develops, Russia will give us such information if it finds it," he was quoted as saying.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said Vershbow's comments implied Moscow was not sharing intelligence with Washington, Interfax and RIA news agencies reported.
"The ambassador should realise that the level of partnership reached between Russia and the U.S.A. is characterised by the presence of reliable channels of dialogue and the exchange of intelligence, including confidential intelligence, and that to address us on this subject through the media is inappropriate," they quoted him as saying on Sunday.
U.S. embassy officials were not immediately available for comment.
DIFFERENCES OVER THE WAR
Russia opposed the U.S.-led war on Iraq but Moscow and Washington have since publicly put aside their differences over the war, saying bilateral ties were not damaged.
However, RIA said Yakovenko repeated Russia's position that the United Nations should oversee the reconstruction of Iraq.
"As we have told our U.S. partners on more than one occasion, this process would be assisted by bringing it as quickly as possible under the aegis of the U.N.,"
In comments broadcast on state television on Saturday, Yakovenko said Washington was obliged to grant diplomatic immunity to its Baghdad embassy staff under international law.
Vershbow said the United States considered it "unwise" for diplomats to set up missions in Baghdad because there was no Iraqi government to grant diplomatic privileges.
A U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council held its inaugural meeting on Sunday, filling a power vacuum after the fall of Saddam on April 9.
Russia's mission in Baghdad was the focus of several rows between Moscow and Washington during the war. Moscow protested against air strikes near its mission and later accused U.S. forces of firing on a diplomatic convoy leaving Iraq.
Russia, whose economic ties with Iraq date back to the Cold War era of superpower rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union, was one of few countries not to have closed its embassy during the war in Iraq.