Global Policy Forum

Interview with RF Permanent Representative to the UN

Federal News Service
March 1, 2001

Anchor: This is Zdes i Seychas. I am Alexander Lyubimov. Iraqi Foreign Minister Muhammad Said al-Sahhaf had talks with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in New York today. For the first time in many years Iraq is negotiating with the international community. The Security Council will meet in several hours to discuss the results of these talks. We are talking to Russian permanent representative to the UN and Security Council member Sergei Lavrov in New York.

Good morning, Sergei Viktorovich. Ten years passed since the end of Operation Desert Storm. Operation Desert Fox was carried out in 1998, and now there are new bombings. Didn't the international community have enough time to find our whether Iraq makes weapons of mass destruction dangerous for other countries and to stop the sanctions to prevent the humanitarian catastrophe which has been openly discussed by international officials from the UN and other organizations so that children would not get killed there and so that they would get enough food and medications. Has there been progress during these 10 years or not?

Lavrov: Good evening, Alexander. There certainly has been progress in what you mentioned in the very beginning, namely, it was established with certainty that there were no more weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Regarding nuclear weapons, it's a "medical fact", so to speak, that Iraq poses no threat and that all of its nuclear developments for military purposes have been stopped and are under IAEA control.

In the missile field, the problem is also practically solved. Of hundreds of missiles prohibited in Iraq, only two are not accounted for, but there is full confidence that no engines are left in Iraq. So, this file can also be closed.

There is clarity on most components of Iraq's chemical program as well. Those components which continue to raise questions can no longer be used for the production of chemical weapons. A similar situation in biology, where there are some unsolved questions from the viewpoint of UN inspectors. But we are convinced that the resumption of monitoring in Iraq will make it possible to solve all these questions. The problem is that after bombings during Operation Desert Fox, which you mentioned, in December 1998 -- as you know, the bombings were carried out by the US and Britain unilaterally without the Security Council's consent and in violation of the Security Council resolution -- it is impossible now to arrange for the return of inspectors to Iraq, although the Security Council constantly takes measures, at the initiative of Russia, France, China and other countries, to make the Iraqi question a subject of the most serious and comprehensive consideration.

There is a number of proposals on how to create a system of long- term monitoring in Iraq in exchange for the lifting of sanctions --

Q: I am sorry for interrupting you, but you mean that Iraq refuses to receive observers. By the way, I can cite the France Presse news agency which in turn quoted Mr. al-Sahhaf who is negotiating with Kofi Annan as saying that they are using the bombings as a pretext for not allowing observers to enter the country because when they do let them in, the facilities they monitor get bombed. Am I right?

A: You know, they bomb more often than that. There have been no observers and inspectors in Iraq for two years, but bombings continue. These illegal unilateral bombings under the pretext of the so-called no-fly zones unilaterally announced by the US and Britain are an obstacle to any progress in breaking the Iraqi deadlock. This has been repeatedly pointed out by the Russian leadership. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov talked about this in his meeting with the US Secretary of State: we call for a comprehensive approach and we understand that no agreement will be possible if the problem of these illegal no-fly zones is not solved, if these zones are not abolished by those who created them and if illegal bombings in Iraq are not stopped.

Q: But is Iraq not ready to let observers in?

A: I have talked with the UN Secretary General and Iraqi Foreign Minister al-Sahhaf who has held a series of talks here with the UN Secretariat. I don't have the impression that they are not ready to let observers in. They are ready to do this. They are ready to comply with Security Council resolutions which call for creating a system of long-term monitoring in Iraq in order to make sure during a rather long period of time that Iraq does not resume the production of weapons of mass destruction.

But Iraq quite legitimately insists that there must be a comprehensive approach. We are talking about the resumption of inspections as part of long-term monitoring and the suspension and subsequent lifting of sanctions in accordance with Security Council resolutions, and in a broader context about ensuring the security and legitimate security interests of all countries in the region, including Iraq. A while ago, Russia proposed an additional plan, supplementing the Iraqi settlement plan, to promote security and confidence in the Persian Gulf area.

It is obvious to us that intermittent steps in the settlement and stabilization of the situation in Iraq and in the Persian Gulf in general are unacceptable. This is why we favor a comprehensive approach --

Q: I see. But what has changed during these years, for example, the public opinion -- I have looked through British newspapers and the attitude toward the latest bombings was very negative. I have even read somewhere that they have been compared to Yugoslavia where Milosevic also had unquestionable authority as long as NATO bombed the country, but when everything stopped, problems were solved in Yugoslavia in a rather peaceful way. Apparently your colleagues in the Security Council will take a different position from that of France and China. Do they share your view that bombings only support Saddam Hussein's political regime?

A: This point of view is shared by most members of the Security Council, and it's not he who gets beaten gets sympathies. I think the reason for the indignation of the world public is much more serious. Sanctions have been on for more than 10 years and bombings continue. On the one hand, those who carry out these bombings urge Iraq to comply with Security Council resolutions, but on the other hand, they themselves violate these resolutions in which the Security Council demanded respect for Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

As you correctly pointed out, the humanitarian situation in Iraq is close to a catastrophe. But it's not only that people don't get enough food, medications and other basic necessities. The sanctions have practically ruined the Iraqi economy and is destroying the fabric of civil society in the country. That's terrible. This problem requires only a comprehensive solution. By the way, responding to questions from the press after the first round of talks with the Iraqi delegation yesterday, the Secretary General spoke firmly in favor of a comprehensive approach that would take into account regional security interests. Today when he will come to the Security Council --

Q: May I ask you the last question? Apparently our diplomacy has an obvious commercial interest because major Russian oil companies have their own interests there and there are agreements at the political level that our companies will develop oil fields there. But Americans also want the supply of oil to grow so that its price would drop. At least the new administration has pointed this out. But what is the main argument against lifting sanctions?

A: First of all, I want to say that it is not our diplomacy but our state that has commercial interests.

Q: Yes, of course.

A: We want Iraq, which is our long-standing partner, to return to the world community as its equal member, including in terms of international economic exchanges. But it's hard for me to say what interests Americans may have in keeping Iraq in such a state. As I have already said, it is irrational to demand that it comply with Security Council resolutions and at the same time bomb it and call for toppling its regime.

We know that the new US administration is revising its policy with regard to Iraq. After that it will certainly get in touch with Security Council members and primarily with its permanent members. I think that this review in Washington will make it realize the need for more rational actions which, on the one hand, would give us confidence that Iraq does not and will not have weapons of mass destruction, and on the other hand, would put an end to the abnormal situation for the Iraqi population and the Persian Gulf area as a whole, where stability is very fragile.

Anchor: Thank you very much, Sergei Viktorovich. I wish all the best to the Security Council. We will watch the situation and hope that the world has changed in the last 10 years, and perhaps it has changed for the better.

More Information on a Turning Point for Iraq
More Information on the Iraq Crisis
More Information on Sanctions Against Iraq


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