March 22, 2003 (rtr)Russia vows to stop US move to legitimize Iraq war
MOSCOW - Russia vowed on Saturday to block any future moves by the United States and its allies to win U.N. blessing for the military action against Iraq and the post-war power structures they might set up there.
Keeping up fierce Russian criticism of the U.S. and British offensive, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said he expected Washington to seek retroactive approval for their action from the United Nations after Iraqi resistance had been crushed.
"Attempts will undoubtedly be made in the U.N. Security Council to find ways which would help legitimise the military operations and the post-war (political) set-up in Iraq," he told a defence and foreign policy conference outside Moscow.
"We will follow this very carefully and we will not, of course, give legitimacy to this action in the Security Council," Ivanov said.
Russia has veto rights on the Council which allow it to block resolutions it opposes.
The fall-out over Iraq has dealt a hard knock to U.S.-Russian relations which have enjoyed an unusual period of warmth since President Vladimir Putin threw Moscow's support behind the U.S. war on terror following the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington.
Putin, who forged close personal ties with U.S. President George W. Bush, took the gloves off against Washington last Thursday for the first time in 18 months, denouncing the military action as a "big political mistake" and called for it to be ended rapidly.
In the run-up to the U.S. and British offensive, Russia aligned itself with U.N. heavyweights France and China in opposing U.S. plans to use force to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and disarm Iraq of alleged banned weapons.
Ivanov told journalists: "I don't think Iraq needs a democracy brought on the wings of Tomahawk (missiles)."
Speaking to the conference, he expressed concern over the future of Russia's considerable economic interests in the region once Saddam had been removed.
Reflecting fears that a pro-U.S. administration in Iraq might declare Saddam-era contracts null and void, he said: "We must defend our interests so that the contracts signed under Saddam Hussein will not be cancelled and declared invalid."
And he cast doubt over Bush's assurances that the United States did not intend to seize control of Iraq's oil wealth.
"Although it is being said that Iraq's natural resources belong only to the Iraqi people there will be an enormous desire to acquire these resources. And one of our aims is to defend our legal interests (in Iraq)," he said.
Russian oil companies have been deeply involved in Iraq and have the most to lose should any post-Saddam government seek investment from leading U.S. or British oil majors to develop Iraq's huge crude reserves.
He made it clear that Moscow had no intention of complying with a request by Washington for nations to close down Iraqi embassies and force pro-Saddam diplomats to leave.
Calling the request strange, he said: "We wrote to the (U.S.) State Department asking them what was behind this."