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Russia, US Make 'Substantial Progress' Over Iraqi Sanctions - 2002-03-28

Russia and the United States say they have made substantial progress in discussions about revising U.N.-mandated sanctions against Iraq.

After two days of talks between senior American and Russian officials here in Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that "substantial progress" had been achieved on the outline of a future sanctions program against Iraq.

The leader of the U.S. delegation, Assistant Secretary of State John Wolf, described the discussions as successful. The joint Russian-American position will now be sent to the United Nations Security Council for final approval. Mr. Wolf said he hopes the council will act swiftly, and he predicted a new sanctions program could be ready soon, within the next month or two.

Details of just what the two nations agreed upon were not immediately released.

Russia and the United States have long been at odds over Iraq.

The United States remains a staunch supporter of sanctions, and President Bush recently described Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, as part of an "axis of evil."

Russia would like to see sanctions lifted altogether, and has expressed concern about Mr. Bush's remarks, fearing these could be a prelude to a U.S. attack against Iraq. Russia and Iraq have been close trading partners. Moscow is eager to recover billions of dollars in loans it made to Iraq in the 1980s, and Russian companies want a greater share of the lucrative Iraqi oil market.

International sanctions were taken against Iraq following its 1990 invasion of neighboring Kuwait. Baghdad is, however, allowed to import food, medicines, and other humanitarian items, which it then pays for from oil exports. This is the so-called oil-for-food program.

Over the years, the sanctions have come under increasing criticism, with growing concerns that they hurt mainly the Iraqi population and not the country's ruling elite. In an effort to address those concerns, the United States and Britain proposed new sanctions that would allow Iraq to import more humanitarian goods, but would tighten restrictions on items that could be used for military purposes.

In the past, Russia was not persuaded by the new plan, and even threatened to use its veto, if it came to a vote in the Security Council. This week's discussions were aimed at ironing out differences before a Moscow summit in May between President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin.