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[casi] Russia weighs -in with a bang

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Wednesday, Mar. 19, 2003. Page 1

Putin Says He Regrets Ultimatum

By Simon Saradzhyan
Staff Writer

      President Vladimir Putin told U.S. President George W. Bush on Tuesday that he regretted the 
decision to issue an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein, while the Foreign Ministry warned that an attack 
on Iraq without UN approval could lead to "a confrontation of civilizations."

      "Putin expressed regret in connection with Washington's decision on an ultimatum and also in 
connection with the failure of diplomatic efforts to achieve a mutually acceptable compromise," the 
Kremlin press service said of the telephone conversation, which was initiated by Bush.

      Putin also stressed that "in any situation, the United Nations and its Security Council must 
play a central role in securing the international peace and stability," the Kremlin said in a 

      While differing over Iraq, however, the two leaders agreed that they should maintain 
bilateral contacts during any crisis, the statement said.

      Putin also discussed the Iraqi crisis by telephone Tuesday with China's new president, Hu 
Jintao, and they underlined "the commonality of their positions," the Kremlin said.

      The phone conversations came as Putin's chief diplomat, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, warned 
that a U.S.-led war in Iraq would undermine the international anti-terrorism coalition and might 
escalate into a global conflict.

      "It is important not to cross the line in which the war against terrorism might escalate into 
a confrontation of entire peoples, religions and civilizations," Ivanov told a security conference 
in Moscow.

      "Unfortunately today, in connection with the looming threat of war against Iraq, the unity of 
the international anti-terrorism coalition is under threat," said Ivanov, who has emerged as the 
harshest critic of war in the Russian government.

      In language reminiscent of the Yeltsin administration's opposition to U.S. global dominance, 
Ivanov said Russia stood for a "multi-polar" world in which the UN coordinates efforts to build up 
global security.

      Ivanov's remarks were the strongest salvo that has Russia fired to date in a war of words 
over Iraq.

      Putin said Monday that a war would be mistake imperiling international security, but he was 
careful not make any blunt warning to the United States and its allies.

      Ivanov reiterated that only the UN Security Council has the right to decide whether force can 
be used against Iraq.

      He also said the Iraq issue should return to the council's jurisdiction even if a military 
operation is started in Iraq.

      Ivanov left late in the day for New York to attend a Security Council meeting Wednesday. 
Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix is to spell out what Iraq must do to prove it has disarmed.

      While pressing ahead for peace, Ivanov and other Russian officials acknowledged that war 
appeared to be inevitable and expressed concern about Russia's economic interests in a post-Hussein 

      "There is little hope left," Ivanov said.

      He said that Russia faces a fight convincing any new Iraqi regime to honor the contracts 
awarded by Hussein's government to Russian oil companies.

      His remarks were echoed by the Kremlin's Security Council secretary, Vladimir Rushailo, who 
said Russia would challenge any decision by a new regime to cancel the contracts in "international 
institutes," Interfax reported.

      Rushailo's deputy Oleg Chernov -- who was to fly with Ivanov to New York -- said Tuesday that 
Russia would have to do its best to restore peace in Iraq if war breaks out.

      "The world, including Russia and other interested countries, must do everything necessary to 
seek a path that brings peace to Iraq," Chernov was quoted by Interfax as saying.

      In the State Duma, deputies postponed a vote to ratify a U.S.-Russian nuclear arms treaty, 
and Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov warned that if war starts it might never be ratified.

      "In the event of an American strike on Iraq, the fate of the entire treaty will be in 
question," Seleznyov said during a visit to the Czech capital, Prague, Interfax reported.

      "The Americans are striking at international law," he said.

      Duma deputies decided that the Moscow Treaty, which was to have been considered Friday, will 
not be placed on the agenda until April -- and then they will only set a date for the vote.

      Putin and Bush signed the Moscow Treaty in May, and it was ratified by U.S. Congress earlier 
this month. It requires Russia and the United States to cut their strategic nuclear arsenals by 
about two-thirds, to 1,700 to 2,200 deployed warheads each, by 2012.

      Sergei Shishkaryov, the deputy chairman of the Duma's foreign affairs committee, directly 
linked the postponement of the treaty to Bush's ultimatum.

      "We consider ratification very important, but this step is not justified," he told Reuters.

      "We are standing on the verge of World War III, and the consequences of the beginning of 
military action in Iraq are to a large extent unpredictable," he said.

      Igor Sergeyev, Putin's adviser on global security, also warned that a war in Iraq could "lead 
to unpredictable consequences for international security."

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