MOSCOW - The U.S. Ambassador to Russia said Monday that Russia's economic commitments would be "better protected" in Iraq under a new government there, arguing that Russian and U.S. interests aren't as different as some skeptics say.
Russia's considerable investments "could be better protected under new leadership in Iraq," Alexander Vershbow said at a round-table discussion on the fallout of the Sept. 11 attacks. He noted that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein "has not paid a single kopeck" of the billions of dollars Iraq owes Russia in Soviet-era debt.
Russia, which has spoken strongly against any U.S. military action in Iraq, also has significant investments in Iraq, particularly by oil companies. Russia and Iraq are negotiating a 10-year trade agreement, envisioning new deals which could be worth dlrs 40 billion, Iraqi officials have said.
Russia, a member of the U.N. Security Council, is a key focus of American lobbying efforts against Iraq.
U.S. officials will be traveling to Moscow in the near future to make their case for a change of government in Iraq, but Vershbow couldn't say who those officials would be or when the visit would be made.
"I hope that the discussions in the coming weeks will lead to a common understanding," he said.
"Of course the United States will look out for its own interests, but we think our interests coincide with Russia and the international community," he said. "The threats that we all face today are the same."
One area of tension between the two countries has been Russia's cooperation with Iran on building a nuclear power plant that Washington fears could be used to produce atomic weapons.
U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton is due soon in Moscow to discuss American concerns, Vershbow said, adding that closer cooperation between the countries hinges on those talks - and could lead to greater exchange between the countries on uses of peaceful nuclear technology and in high-technology fields, such as aerospace.