The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Meet on Iraq

New Delhi, March 24: Russia is planning to convene an emergency meeting of the UN General Assembly for an open debate on the US-initiated war in Iraq, in a fresh attempt to get the international community to stop the “destruction and loss of human lives” and discuss the “humanitarian consequences” of the military action against the Saddam Hussein regime.

Russia, one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, had opposed, along with France and China, the US military action in Iraq.

Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov yesterday spoke to his Indian counterpart Yashwant Sinha on the developments in Iraq — particularly, the civilian casualties since the war began.

Indian foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal will leave for Moscow on Wednesday to discuss with the Russian leadership the war and the steps the two countries could take to convince the US to end its military campaign early.

Sibal’s main meeting will be with first deputy foreign minister V. Trubnikov. He will later meet Ivanov as well.

During the telephone conversation, Ivanov and Sinha reviewed the situation in Iraq and shared concerns about the destruction and loss of human lives. But both refrained from condemning the US-led war.

The two leaders exchanged views on how the UN could again be involved in the matter, given the mounting international concern about the serious humanitarian consequence of the war. Both agreed to remain in touch and exchange assessments of the developments.

Although Russia and India have been opposed to the US “unilateralism” in going ahead with the war against Iraq, both are keen to ensure that nothing jeopardises their “good” relations with Washington. So Moscow and Delhi have been careful in their reaction to the war.

The leadership in Moscow, which realises it is in no position to stop the war, has not been as critical of the US action as France and Germany.

Much of Russia’s caution stems from its worry about the post-Saddam situation. Russia has invested heavily in the oil sector and the future of its economy is badly dependent on oil prices.

After the war, once the US takes control of Iraqi oil, the Russian economy could go for a toss if petroleum prices slump. The leaders in Moscow want to avoid such a situation by refusing to adopt too harsh a stand against the US military action.

The Russians are also keen on playing a significant role in choosing a future regime for Baghdad, if and when Saddam is thrown out of power.

Moscow is aware that both France and Germany have put themselves in a spot after their virulent criticism of the US. By adopting a mature and balanced stand, Russia thinks it will be able to have an important say in deciding the nature of Iraq’s future.

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