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Russia, Iraq Sign Cooperation Deal - 2002-08-17

Iraqi officials are reporting that they have agreed to a new economic cooperation plan with Russia.

The new plan is reportedly worth $40 billion and will include cooperation in the areas of oil, irrigation, agriculture, transportation and railroads.

The announcement comes as Washington is considering ways to remove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power, saying he is developing weapons of mass destruction, which Iraq denies. Moscow is a longtime ally of Iraq and has lobbied against a possible U.S.-led invasion of the country.

Russia has also supported lifting U.N. sanctions imposed on Iraq after it invaded Kuwait in 1990. By lifting sanctions, Moscow hopes Baghdad would be able to start paying off the billions of dollars in Soviet-era debt it owes to Russia.

In an interview with The Washington Post Saturday, a Russian official said the deal would not violate the sanctions.

According to Iraqi officials, a signing ceremony to formalize the deal will take place in Baghdad within a few weeks.

While relations between Moscow and Washington have greatly improved since the September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States, recently, Russia has indicated that it is going to maintain contact with countries that President Bush says are part of an "axis of evil:" Iraq, Iran and North Korea. U.S. officials say these countries are trying to obtain weapons of mass destruction.

Just a month ago, Moscow announced that it would expand its nuclear energy cooperation with Iran.

Washington has often criticized Moscow's nuclear cooperation with Iran, saying Iran is using the Russian technology and know-how to build nuclear weapons. Iran denies it is trying to develop weapons of mass destruction, and Moscow says the program is entirely civilian in nature.

Earlier this week, it was announced that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il would be traveling to the Russian Far East in late August.