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US Has Evidence Russia Sold Sensitive Military Equipment to Iraq - 2003-03-24

The White House said it has "credible evidence" that Russia has sold sensitive military equipment to Iraq in violation of a U.N. embargo. U.S. President George W. Bush telephoned Russian leader Vladimir Putin to discuss the alleged sales, transactions Russia denies.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the administration has evidence that Russian companies have sold Iraq night vision goggles and anti-tank guided missiles, as well as electronic jamming equipment that could be used to disrupt U.S. planes or guided bombs.

Mr. Fleischer called the military sales "disturbing" and said President Bush made those concerns clear in his conversation with President Putin. "We do have concerns that some aspects of this may be ongoing. Those concerns were raised in the phone call today. President Putin assured President Bush that he would look into it, and President Bush said he looked forward to hearing the results," he said.

Mr. Fleischer said the United States expects Russian arms sales to Iraq to cease immediately. Such transactions would violate a U.N. arms embargo.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Moscow has not sold Iraq anything that violates U.N. sanctions. He said Washington has been asking about the alleged illegal arms sales since last October, but Russian officials have not found any evidence to back up the U.S. allegations.

Russia opposes the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein and disarm the military. Along with France and China, Russia says President Bush should have given U.N. weapons inspectors more time to disarm Iraq peacefully.

President Putin last week called for Washington to stop the war, saying it is a mistake with "grave consequences for all."

Mr. Fleischer said President Bush remains committed to maintaining broader Russian-American cooperation despite the differences over Iraq and these allegations of illegal arms sales. "The relations between the United States and Russia are important relations that the two presidents are dedicated to keeping. There are problems," he said. "This clearly is a problem that needs to be resolved. And this is why it came up in the phone call, this is why it is disturbing, and this is why the two have talked about it, for the purpose of resolving it," Mr. Fleischer said.

Mr. Fleischer said President Bush understands and respects the thoughts of those who disagree with the military operation, but said the United States and its coalition will not be deterred from their mission of disarming Saddam Hussein.