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US Congress Holds Meeting with Top Russian Lawmaker Over Cooperation - 2003-02-26


U.S. lawmakers want Russia to do more to support the United States on possible military action against Iraq, and to address Washington's concerns about Russian nuclear assistance to Iran. Lawmakers expressed concerns to a top Russian lawmaker, Mikhail Margelov, who testified Wednesday before the House of Representatives International Relations Committee.

Committee chairman Congressman Henry Hyde called Russian policies on Iraq and Iran, in his words, a troubling exception to President Putin's realignment of Moscow's foreign policy toward the United States, in the aftermath of the September 2001 terrorist attacks.

But the sharpest criticism came from California Congressman Tom Lantos, who spoke of what he called "very questionable" Russian trading relations with Iraq and Iran. "It is incomprehensible to the rational mind that Iran would need developments in the nuclear field for energy purposes, and it is self-evident to a child that Iran's determination to develop its nuclear technology is military-oriented," Mr. Lantos said.

Mr. Margelov defended Russian economic interests with Iran and Iraq, denying Moscow is playing an "ambivalent game" in its relations with the United Sates regarding Iraq.

Russia, he said, is concerned about the lack of strategic planning for events in Iraq after a possible U.S. led attack, saying the United States does not appear to have "done its homework."

"If we do not preserve the territorial integrity of Iraq, the whole region can explode. If the Kurds get the wrong signals that they can get independence as a result of military conflict, that can explode Iran, it can explode Turkey, it can explode Syria. And I don't think the international community is ready to re-draw the post-British, post-French, post-colonial map of the Middle East," Mr. Margelov said.

Mr. Margelov called U.S. concerns about Russian nuclear cooperation with Iran unfounded. Describing Iran's nuclear program as being in the early stages, he said Moscow does not want Iran to have nuclear weapons, but the health of Russia's nuclear industrial sector makes such cooperation necessary.

"Our nuclear sector needs contracts. If the United States, if other Russian partners in the anti-terrorist coalition, can offer such contracts, that can be good for our nuclear industry, that will, I think, limit its cooperation with Iran. They [Russia's nuclear sector] have to survive," he said.

Several lawmakers, including California's Dana Rohrabacher, said the United States needs to offer Russia alternatives so its nuclear sector would not have to rely on contracts with countries such as Iran. "I think our government, the U.S. government, has been remiss in trying to make demands on Russia without offering positive alternatives," Representative Rohrabacher said.

In other testimony, Ariel Cohen, a research fellow at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, said Russia's credibility as a U.S. strategic partner in the war on terrorism, and bilateral relations, are threatened by the Iranian nuclear issue. He said, "A nuclear-armed Iran may trigger an international crisis, in comparison with which North Korea will look like a school picnic."

Wednesday's testimony by Mr. Margelov, who heads the foreign affairs committee of the council of the Russian federation, coincided with a flurry of diplomatic activity over resolutions at the United Nations, and ongoing consultations in Washington by a representative of Russian President Putin.

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