Iraq backs down Russian diplomacy: Most recent Middle East crisis abates with secret promises of aid to Saddam Hussein's dictatorship.


THE LIKELIHOOD of American bombing of Iraq diminished yesterday when Iraq and Russia announced their agreement that Iraq would allow the United Nations weapons inspectors to return on their own terms. What Russia promised to Iraq's dictator Saddam Hussein was less clear, but in the long run it means use of the Russian veto in the Security Council to prevent extensions of sanctions and to speed Iraq to full standing in the community of nations.

The United States was not party to this deal. It welcomed the step forward but continued the buildup of planes. This was the only course given Saddam Hussein's track record of deceit. But if the joint statement can be believed, Iraq's provocation to the U.N. has ended.

By defusing the crisis, Russia marched back into the role of world power that the disintegrating Soviet Union had vacated. ,, This was accomplished by Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, an ex-intelligence specialist in the Mideast and a hard-line lieutenant of President Boris Yeltsin, who was brought into talks with Saddam Hussein's emissary, Tariq Aziz.

This diplomatic coup for Russia is also a victory for the U.S. in the short run, vindicating the Clinton administration's show of force and diplomacy. For the longer term, however, it may bode defeat for the U.S. It elevates the impatience of Russia, and of France, with economic sanctions on Iraq. They demand light at the end of this tunnel.

They repudiate the claims of American officials, including Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, that sanctions will last until Saddam Hussein disappears. Russia and France are owed money by Iraq, which Iraq cannot pay until it returns unimpeded to the oil market.

What the U.S. and the U.N. arms inspectors must do now is

uphold the integrity of the inspections. This means more open information on the biological and chemical weapons that UNSCOM has found and destroyed, the evidence of more that it has uncovered and its best judgment on Iraq's capabilities and intentions to deploy them.

Russia's and France's desire to end Iraq's pariah status should be respected, but they must confront the reasons for that status. U.N. sanctions were imposed in 1991 to compel Saddam Hussein to destroy his chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs. Until that happens, the U.N. should not relent.

Pub Date: 11/21/97

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