Russia and US renew UN battle over Iraq: 'Cold-War' tension as Allies look beyond Kuwaiti crisis to Baghdad's economic potential

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The Independent Online
THE United States and Russia are due to square off again over Iraq in the United Nations Security Council today after the US won round one in what diplomats are dubbing a 'blast from the Cold War'.

The Clinton administration was delighted at securing a quick vote condemning Iraq for its military manoeuvres against Kuwait, and warning of 'serious consequences' if Iraq does so again. Asked if that means use of force, the US ambassador to the UN, Madeleine Albright, said: 'Of course, absolutely.'

A few minutes before midnight on Saturday, after a day of bargaining, the US overcame a Russian attempt to delay a vote demanding Iraq completes its withdrawal of elite troops near the Kuwaiti border.

The Russians had threatened to use their veto against the US-UK-French- sponsored resolution, but in the end the vote was unanimous. The resolution demanded Iraq 'not again utilise its military or any other forces in a hostile or provocative manner' and held Baghdad 'fully responsible for the serious consequences' if it failed to obey.

Each state was left to interpret the wording in its own way. The US considers that the resolution permits immediate military action if Iraq moves its forces near the Kuwait border again.

Russia and France consider another council resolution would be needed.

Britain was officially neutral, but Britain's ambassador, Sir David Hannay, said: 'I think it would an unwise person who assumed that Iraq could do almost anything it wished without risk.'

As for Iraq, Baghdad dismissed the resolution as 'face-saving'. Radio Baghdad expressed satisfaction that the UN did not require Iraq to give the UN Secretary General two weeks' advance notice of troop movements in the south, as the US originally demanded.

The Russian Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, had been trying to broker a deal in Baghdad where President Saddam Hussein would formally recognise Kuwait and the UN would then lift economic sanctions against Iraq within six months.

Mr Kozyrev had obtained what he insisted was a pledge from President Saddam to recognise Kuwait and wanted their diplomacy to be included in the resolution, but President Bill Clinton was sceptical. He did not believe that the Iraqi leader meant what he said and insisted the two issues - of demanding withdrawal and easing sanctions - be treated separately.

In the end, the Russians exchanged their 'Yes' vote for wording in the resolution that welcomes all diplomatic efforts to solve the crisis and notes only that Iraq was ready to recognise Kuwait.

Today, Mr Kozyrev and possibly Iraq's First Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, will take part in round two of the debate at the Security Council and consider more fully Iraq's position on recognising Kuwait, and sanctions.

The US position will be that Iraq's threatening manoeuvres of the past week show little progress has been made in making Iraq behave like a responsible member of the international community.

(Photograph omitted)