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Powell: Russia Promises Full Probe of Alleged Illegal Arms Sales to Iraq

Secretary of State Colin Powell told Congress Wednesday Russia has promised a full investigation of U.S. charges that Russian firms have illegally sold Iraq high-tech military equipment, including devices that could jam precision-guided U.S. weapons.

Moscow has steadfastly denied that such transfers have taken place. But Mr. Powell says new information about the sales has turned up since the war with Iraq began last week and been handed over to Russian authorities, who he said have promised "to get to the bottom" of the matter.

The Bush administration has accused Moscow of failing to exercise appropriate oversight over the companies, which it says have sold Iraq anti-tank weapons, night-vision goggles, and equipment to jam the satellite-navigation electronics of precision-guided U.S. bombs and missiles.

Pentagon officials have expressed concern that the jamming gear could cause weapons being used against Iraqi military targets to go astray into residential areas, causing civilian casualties and giving Saddam Hussein a propaganda windfall to use against the U.S.-led coalition.

Testifying before a House Appropriations subcommittee, Mr. Powell said that what he termed "high-fidelity" intelligence information to back up the charges has been acquired since the start of the war. He said the evidence, processed to protect U.S. sources, was handed over the Russian authorities Tuesday by U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow.

The secretary told the panel he had spoken only a few hours before with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who promised to follow up on the material submitted by Mr. Vershbow.

"We've given them some very, very recent and fresh information that underlines our concerns, and he assured me that this new information was interesting and they would run it to ground," he said. "They do not want this to be an irritant in our relationship. And they are hard at work on it. And I hope they will find out what we know to be the case, and deal with it."

Administration officials have said evidence in U-S hands indicates the sales were going on as recently as last month, and there are indications Russian technicians from at least one of the companies were in Iraq when hostilities began last Thursday.

Several subcommittee members expressed concern about the alleged sales to Mr. Powell, who said if the matter is not satisfactorily resolved, it would be what he termed a "major difficulty" in the U.S.-Russian relationship.