Thu, May 15, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Powell, Russian leaders talk oil

AMERICAN CONCERNS Apart from discussing a draft UN resolution on selling Iraqi oil, the prickly issue of Russian nuclear technology transfers to Iran will also be raised


US Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Moscow from Riyadh on Tuesday to haggle with Russian leaders over the future of Iraqi oil, with the images of deadly suicide attacks in Saudi Arabia fresh in his mind.

Apart from Iraq, Powell will raise American concerns about Moscow's nuclear deals with Iran, another issue which deeply divides the two countries.

Moscow is the sixth stop on Powell's Middle East and European trip dominated by talks about a Middle East peace plan and Washington's promises to start Iraq's transition from US military occupation to Iraqi civilian government.

Powell will discuss a draft UN resolution which gives the US and its allies the right to sell Iraqi oil and spend the revenue without international supervision.

Russia opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq and is reluctant to give the occupying powers such wide authority, as is France, another veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council.

But a US official said that Washington did not expect the debate to be as heated and divisive as the one over a resolution authorizing the attack on Iraq. Both Russia and France threatened to use their vetoes and a vote was never held.

"Everyone's trying to be pragmatic and not refight the old battles. I don't believe there will be a collision," the official said.

The most contentious issues are the role of the UN special representative in Iraq, control of the oil sales and revenue, and whether UN inspectors should return to Iraq to look for weapons of mass destruction, he added. "We don't see a need for inspectors."

Washington justified its attack on Iraq by accusing Baghdad of hiding weapons of mass destruction. Former president Saddam Hussein's government was toppled last month but no such weapons have yet been found.

US officials say Russia is most interested in the fate of contracts Russian companies had with Iraq under the UN oil-for-food program and contracts on the future development of Iraqi oil fields.

Washington says oil contracts are up to the next Iraqi government.

Powell will prepare for a June 1 summit between presidents Putin and George W. Bush in St Petersburg and meet Putin and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.

He is expected to discuss Russian ratification of the Moscow Treaty on nuclear warheads and the conflict between Russian troops and separatists in Chechnya.

The prickly issue of Russian nuclear technology transfers to Iran will also be raised.

The US says Iran is trying to develop atomic weapons but Tehran says its intentions are peaceful.

Washington says it fears nuclear proliferation will eventually put an atomic bomb in the hands of Islamic militants like the al-Qaeda group.

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