Russia visits Iraq, Blix goes to Brussels

16 January 2003
The intensive diplomacy over Iraq continued on 15 January, as Russia sent a senior official to Baghdad seeking to diffuse tension, and chief weapons inspector Hans Blix visited Brussels to brief EU leaders on the progress of inspections. Moscow's deputy foreign minister Alexander Saltanov arrived in Iraq telling reporters that he was there to seek a diplomatic resolution and avert military action. Russia has repeatedly voiced opposition to any unilateral US attack. Saltanov is being accompanied by representatives from oil giant Lukoil, which had its $3,500 million contracts in Iraq cancelled in December, as well as from Stroytransgazand Zarubezhneft. The Oil Minister who annulled the contract, Amer Mohammed Rasheed, was removed from his post on 7 January. Before Blix left for Brussels, he issued a new warning to Saddam Hussein, saying that Iraq has so far been technically co-operative, but 'they need to do a good deal more to provide evidence if we are to avoid any worse development'. He said that there was still time for Iraq to extricate itself from 'a very dangerous situation'. Blix is due in Baghdad for discussions of the inspections process on 18-20 January, ahead of his first formal report to the UN Security Council on 27 January.

Meanwhile, US preparations for war continued unabated, as a formal request was made for NATO assistance. Washington sent its NATO allies proposals for possible roles in the case of conflict. Turkey, one of the alliance desperate to avoid the disruption of war, has begun preparations for its eventuality, setting up a 24,000-tent refugee camp in the Sirnak border province. Ankara faced criticism during the 1990-1991 Gulf war for its lack of readiness for the flood of refugees and the consequent poor living conditions they faced. Reports indicate that the government will try to establish camps on the Iraqi side of the border to prevent Kurdish separatists entering Turkey.

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