Russian defense minister scolds U.S. on Iraq

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s defense minister accused the United States Thursday of being “uncompromising” in dealing with Iraq and rushing to military strikes before diplomatic avenues are exhausted. Defense Secretary William Cohen termed Russia’s “so-called compromises” unlikely to end the standoff with Saddam Hussein.
Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, in an unusually strong rebuke at the opening of talks during Cohen’s first visit to Moscow, also warned that a U.S. military strike against Iraq would harm the two countries’ post-Cold War military cooperation.
“Does the uncompromising and tough stand over the situation in Iraq help to strengthen stability in the world? … Is America ready for all the possible consequences?” Sergeyev quizzed Cohen, speaking through a translator. “Force can conquer all, but its victory is short-lived,” the defense minister added, noting that he was quoting Abraham Lincoln on his birthday.
“For a military man, it is the worst thing to be late, but it’s also bad to hurry too much while assessing the situation,” said Sergeyev, who said he had first put on the military uniform at age 17.
Cohen, a former Maine senator who has not served in the military, asked to respond. He noted that Sergeyev’s comments had been captured by the Russian and foreign news media. Even so, Russian security guards pushed reporters from the room before Cohen could finish speaking.
“One should make haste slowly and that is precisely what President Clinton has done for the past several months in the face of Saddam Hussein’s tactics of delay, deception and trickery,” Cohen said, launching into a vigorous defense of the administration’s position.
He said the issue was not one of American rigidity, but Iraqi intransigence. Every country that he has visited, including Russia, on his weeklong swing through Europe and the Persian Gulf has said U.N. inspectors must be allowed into presidential sites in Iraq, the secretary said.
President Boris Yeltsin and other top Russian leaders have been highly critical of the U.S. threat to strike against Iraq, but this was the first time the Russians had made such public comments face-to-face with a senior American official.