Russia Calls For U.N. Briefing On Iraqi Crisis

By Evelyn Leopold

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Russia, which along with China is vehemently opposed to U.S.-British air strikes against Iraq, Thursday asked U.N. officials to brief the Security Council on the humanitarian impact of the bombing raids.

Ambassador Sergei Lavrov called for another closed door session on Iraq, telling reporters: ``We cannot debate the issues for the sake of debate. We want information from the ground. We don't have any information for the moment.''

U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said Thursday's council session would discuss the consequences of the military action, the fate of humanitarian workers and the impact of the military action on the humanitarian situation.

But with the council divided on the Iraqi crisis, there was little chance any common position or action could be taken.

Both Russia and China have called for a halt to the air strikes and have accused chief U.N. weapons inspector Richard Butler of deliberately providing justification for the raids in his Tuesday night report that said Baghdad was not cooperating with U.N. inspections.

Some 370 U.N. foreign relief staff are still in Iraq, 134 of them in Baghdad, to administer the ``oil-for-food'' program under which Baghdad is allowed to sell oil to purchase food, medicine and other supplies for ordinary Iraqis suffering under punishing eight-year-old economic sanctions.

Asked why most aid workers were not withdrawn as they were in November when U.S. bombing raids were threatened, Almeida e Silva said there was ``no advance warning that the strikes were going to take place.''

He said the United Nations found out too late for the aid workers to take the long bus trip to Jordan. Butler evacuated his weapons inspectors Wednesday, mostly by air.

In a public debate late Wednesday few council members shared the views of Moscow and Beijing, with almost all saying Iraq had done its share to provoke the crisis.

But at the same time there was little support for the war among the 15 council members, although few were surprised the United States made good on its threat.

France, which has frequently criticized Butler and is usually sympathetic to Iraq, disassociated itself from the air strikes but also regretted Iraq's lack of cooperation.

The council, which has the power to take mandatory decisions, is comprised of five permanent members with veto powers - the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France.

Ten other nations serve for two-year terms and are currently Bahrain, Brazil, Costa Rica, Gabon, Gambia, Japan, Kenya, Portugal, Slovenia and Sweden. All participated in the Wednesday debate except Bahrain, the only Arab member.

Brazil, Costa Rica and Sweden said that military force should be used as a last resort and then only with Security Council approval. But they also deplored Iraq's actions.

Typical was Slovenia's ambassador Danilo Turk, who regretted the military action but also said Iraq had not lived up to its obligations.

Lavrov Wednesday appealed ``that an end be immediately put to these acts of military force, that restraint and prudence be demonstrated and no further escalation of the conflict be allowed.''

``No one is entitled to act independently on behalf of the United Nations and even less to assume the functions of a world policeman,'' he said.

Both Lavrov and China's ambassador Qin Huasun made clear they believed Butler's report was distorted and concentrated on five blocked searches out of 300 inspections carried out over the last month by his U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM), in charge of dismantling Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Qin said he had ``played a dishonorable role in this crisis'' and produced ``one-sided and evasive'' reports, adding: ``It is difficult for the UNSCOM leader to shirk his responsibility over the current crisis.''

Lavrov also suggested Butler resign because of his decision to pull out inspectors without council consultations.

Russia, long sympathetic to Iraq, wants the council to hold its promised ``comprehensive review'' of Iraq's progress in scrapping its weapons of mass destruction, in the hope this will lead to an easing of the sanctions imposed when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990.

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