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Russian, Iraqi Foreign Ministers Meet in Moscow - 2004-07-24

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Moscow is not prepared to send any peacekeeping troops to Iraq, but is willing to assist Baghdad in other ways. Mr. Lavrov spoke after meeting Saturday with Iraq's interim foreign minister in Moscow.

Foreign Minister Lavrov says Russia is studying ways to help Iraq economically, such as with business training programs in the oil industry.

He also says Moscow will seek to restructure Iraq's international debt through the Paris Club of creditor nations.

But he says Russia is not prepared to send any peacekeepers to Iraq, something Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, earlier had said he might seek on his two-day visit to Moscow.

The two foreign ministers spent about 90 minutes meeting, the first high-level visit by an Iraqi government minister since the transfer of power late last month.

Russia has long said it would not take part in any multinational peacekeeping force in Iraq, even if one were formed under the aegis of the United Nations.

Moscow was one of the strongest critics of the U.S.-led war last year that toppled Saddam Hussein, and Russian officials say there is little they can do to halt the armed insurgency directed against the new Iraqi government and foreign troops already in the country.

Mr. Lavrov says Russia feels that working by different means, on economic issues such as dealing with the country's large debt, is of equal importance to Iraq as it struggles to emerge from decades of war, economic sanctions and political turmoil.

The Iraqi foreign minister said he hoped Russian technicians would soon return to continue working to help restore electric power at several facilities.

The large contingent of workers left Iraq in May, after several insurgent attacks left two men dead and two others were briefly held hostage.

Russian oil companies have long been active in Iraq, in relations dating well back into the Soviet era.