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Russian FM Harshly Criticizes US-Led Operation in Iraq - 2003-03-26

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has strongly rejected claims that the U.S.-led war on Iraq is a war of liberation. Mr. Ivanov told Russia's upper house of parliament that the war must be stopped.

Mr. Ivanov told the Federation Council that he believes the only thing coalition forces had unleashed thus far in Iraq was terror and destruction. He belittled U.S. claims of a quick and triumphant victory with minimal casualties and destruction as being, in his words, far removed from reality.

Mr. Ivanov said the situation is not about democratizing Iraq and freeing its people from dictatorship and suffering. He said that in Russia's view, it is about the total destruction of the country.

The Russian foreign minister again predicted that the U.S.-led effort is doomed to fail, unless the issue of resolving the Iraqi crisis is brought back before the U.N. Security Council.

Mr. Ivanov also warned U.S. and British forces against making claims of discovering Iraqi stockpiles of banned weapons to, as he put it, justify their operations. And he reiterated Russia's view that only the U.N. Security Council could legitimize such claims.

On a related note, Mr. Ivanov said he supports legislators' attempts to postpone ratification of a major nuclear arms reduction treaty with the United States.

The treaty calls for the United States and Russia to reduce their strategic long-range nuclear weapons stockpiles by two-thirds, to between 1,700 and 2,200 such weapons each.

Ratification of the accord had been a top priority for Moscow before the planned U.S.-Russian Summit in St. Petersburg this May. But Russia's lower house of parliament, the Duma, postponed ratification indefinitely last week, citing intense pressure over Iraq and the view that Russia's opposition to war was being ignored.

Under Russian law, the Duma has to ratify the treaty before the Federation Council can consider it.

Mr. Ivanov said he thought it might be better to take up the treaty once a political solution to the Iraq crisis had been found and peace restored. At the same time, he said Russia is not withdrawing support for the treaty altogether.

Shortly after Mr. Ivanov spoke, Federation Council lawmakers appealed to President Vladimir Putin to form a working group to protect Russia's economic interests in Iraq after the war is over.

The Russian president has been one of the most outspoken opponents of the war to disarm Iraq and oust President Saddam Hussein, calling it a big political mistake.