Moscow: "We Can't Accept Ultimatums"


The intense diplomatic battle that has been raging at the U.N. is coming to a close. A vote may be imminent on a proposed British resolution declaring that Saddam Hussein has missed his final chance to comply with U.N. demands to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction unless he meets several final "benchmarks." They include announcing in Arabic on television that Iraq possesses such weapons and allowing dozens of scientists to be interviewed outside of Iraq.

France and Russia have declared that they will veto any resolution that appears to authorize the immediate use of force against Iraq. BusinessWeek Senior Writer Rose Brady spoke with Russia's U.N. ambassador, Sergei Lavrov, about his country's position and its possible impact on the future of U.S.-Russian relations. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow:

Q: Do you think the U.S. has mishandled the diplomacy in the U.N. on Iraq?

A: Each country has its own diplomacy, and each country has its own convictions.... [But] we've been saying that we can't accept ultimatums and the automatic use of force. We're convinced that disarmament can be done peacefully by continuing inspections.

Q: Will U.S.-Russian relations suffer as a result of the differences over Iraq?

A: I hope that U.S.-Russian relations are mature enough to survive crisis situations. Difficult situations have taken place in the past -- when the U.S. unilaterally abandoned the ABM [antiballistic missile] treaty, which we believe was a mistake, just as we believe that the expansion of NATO was a mistake. We said so, but we also said we did have other things to do with the U.S., and I think we managed to survive those two critical points in our relations.

Q: How serious is this crisis for the international community?

A: It's serious, no doubt, if the war starts in a situation when it isn't warranted because the real process on the ground in Iraq is progressing. You have only to read statements from leaders of the region to sense what the fallout will be and the very serious consequences [if force is used].

The Middle East situation is deadlocked, and there's the rise of extremist feelings and actions. [There's the problem of] the Kurds. I hope everybody understands the seriousness of [the situation], and when a decision regarding this crisis is taken that we will all fully recognize our responsibilities.

Q: If the U.S. and Britain go to war without the backing of the U.N., what damage would that do to the U.N. Security Council?

A: This would certainly be against the U.N. charter, and this would be unfortunate. The charter clearly says the use of force is not legitimate unless authorized by the Security Council or in self-defense [after a direct attack].

As far as the future of the Security Council is concerned, I don't think it's in danger. It's handling a dozen and a half peacekeeping operations in very crucial areas, and it's leading the international coalition against terrorism. The council is paying attention in practical terms to such issues as illegal drug trafficking, organized crime, and other issues that are of direct interest to all countries -- including the largest countries in the world.

Q: What is your opinion of President Bush's new national security strategy, which endorses the notion of preemptive strikes to protect American and other international interests?

A: This preemptive doctrine is very worrying. [Again], it certainly goes against the U.N. charter. The [international community's] priorities are going to be confused. The coalition against international terrorism will suffer, and other international efforts could [suffer as well].

I hope that we all will [realize] that we need cooperative relations to fight common threats and challenges.


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