#16 - JRL 7250
Intelligence about Saddam behind Russian-US row over Russians' safety in Baghdad
Source: Channel One TV, Moscow, in Russian 2000 gmt 14 Jul 03
[Presenter Andrey Baturin] A noisy political row has broken out between Moscow and Washington at the weekend. US ambassador in Russia Alexander Verhsbow made several statements, provoking outrage in the Russian Foreign Ministry, which described these statements as inappropriate. The head of the US diplomatic mission said that Russia could have been helpful, rendering assistance by providing intelligence information about the hiding place of Saddam Husayn, his sons and supporters.
In other words, he suggested that Moscow knows where the former dictator is hiding but does not wish to share its information with the US. That is how the US ambassador's statements can be interpreted. His was almost an accusation: after all, Russia and USA had agreed a long time ago about an exchange of intelligence. And all of a sudden, lo and behold: such a disagreement. Of course, Saddam has many friends in Russia. But that does not mean that Moscow would have taken steps to hide him. Besides, Vershbow warned that the USA did not consider the Russian embassy in Iraq as a diplomatic mission and therefore assumed no responsibility for the safety of its staff. In reply, Moscow reminded
Washington of an example from recent history, when the world community had condemned Iraq's own attempts during its invasion of Kuwait to shut down missions as well as to deprive their staff of immunity and privileges.
Many questions arise in connection with this issue, above all why precisely at this moment in time, the Americans have decided to refuse the Russian
embassy protection. What has this to do with? We shall discuss these issues with our night-time experts. We have in our studio deputy chairman of the Duma security committee, former FSB director Nikolay [Dmitriyevich] Kovalev. We have also on the line a leading US political scientist in Washington, Ariel Cohen, who is an analyst in the Heritage foundation. Hallo, Mr Cohen.
But before we have our discussion, here is a brief chronology of events surrounding the Russian embassy in Baghdad. Roman Babayan is here with the details.
[Correspondent] The Russian embassy in Baghdad is continuing its work in its usual mode. That was the frequent statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry right before and during the US operation against Iraq. Even a few days prior to the first missile strikes against Baghdad, Russian ambassador Vladimir Titorenko had officially warned that in any event, regardless of how things would develop, Russian diplomats would continue work in Baghdad. True, the ambassador made the reservation that the strength of the diplomatic mission was likely to be reduced, and in the event of a real threat, the possibility of full evacuation from the country will be examined. Titorenko also stated that the embassy had prepared and confirmed a plan for evacuation, under which diplomats would be leaving Iraq via the Iranian border, which is only 220 km from Baghdad. The ambassador said that was the closest and safest route. In the meantime, in the middle of March, the number of embassy of staff was reduced. [Passage omitted: details of departure] By the beginning of the US operation against Iraq, only 26 people, including the ambassador, had continued work. [Passage omitted: more details]. It is noteworthy that at that time the Russian embassy was guarded as a rule by three to five Iraqi soldiers armed with Kalashnikov rifles. [Passage omitted: more details and reiteration] On 6 April, Titorenko was instructed by Moscow to evacuate the remaining staff of the diplomatic mission. Only 12 people remained at the embassy and armed guards. Later 11 embassy staff, the ambassador and the journalists left the country, too. [Passage omitted: known details] The convoy came under attack, with five diplomats having been wounded. One was operated on in Al-Fallujah. A few days later the ambassador helped the wounded one on his way and returned to Baghdad. [Passage omitted]
At present, the Russian embassy continues its work but it is now being protected not by the Iraqi soldiers but by several armoured vehicles of the US army. However, after the statement by Alexander Vershbow, ambassador in Moscow, the post will be removed in the next few days.
[Passage omitted: presenter Cohen comments, making conciliatory utterances]
[Presenter to Kovalev] What do you think if they remove the US posts near the Russian embassy, can the embassy protect itself?
[Kovalev] It will not be able to fully protect itself. I think the situation will lead to a very serious row for the Americans. After Vershbow's statement about the removal of the guards, if an attack is carried out, I think the row will reach international proportions. Because Russia perceives such statements by the US ambassador as a veiled threat: unless you behave yourselves we
shall not take care of your security, as it were. [Passage omitted: to the same effect]
[Presenter] Now, let us go back to the utterances by the US ambassador, namely, in respect of Russia's help to find Saddam Husayn. The Americans have not been able to find the former dictator for over three months, who is said to be still in Baghdad. [Passage omitted: video report on US search for Saddam and Cohen's side of the story] [to Kovalev] Nikolay Dmitriyevich. How beneficial it is for Russia to hide information about Saddam's hiding place.
[Kovalev] As a matter of fact, this is completely impossible. It is clear that in our situation, in our life today, everything secret can quickly become obvious. So, if such information exists, it will inevitably see the light of day. That is for one thing. If Russia had had such information, it would have immediately been delivered to the USA. Rest assured. There is no doubt about that. [Passage omitted: Cohen says there will be no row]