Russia defends economic ties against criticism

Monday, August 26, 2002

MOSCOW -- Russia defended itself against U.S. criticism of its economic ties with countries like Iraq, saying attempts to mix business and ideology were misguided.

"Mixing ideology with economic ties, which was characteristic of the Cold War that Russia and the United States worked to end, is a thing of the past," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Boris Malakhov said Saturday, reacting to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's statement that Moscow's economic relationships with such countries sends a negative signal.

Rumsfeld warned last week that if Russia decides to do business with countries such as Iraq, Libya, Syria, Cuba and North Korea, businesses around the world may shun Russia.

"This is not the first time that the Pentagon has taken on the unusual mission of making statements on behalf of the American and foreign business communities," Malakhov said in a statement. "It is hard for us to judge to what extent the Pentagon has the authority to do this and who gave it such authority.

"However, we have the impression that the American military leadership is forced to make such statements in the absence of serious arguments in favor of the military scenarios that it is imposing on others and which are evoking growing concern in the world."

Last week, the Foreign Ministry confirmed that Russia was talking with Iraq about a long-term economic cooperation deal. Iraqi Ambassador Abbas Khalaf said it was a $40 billion agreement, but Moscow would not confirm the figure.

Both sides say the deal would not violate United Nations sanctions, imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Russia staunchly opposes a U.S. invasion of Iraq -- a possibility that Washington is considering as a way to depose Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il visited Russia for the second consecutive summer last week. On Saturday, Kim returned to his country after meeting with President Vladimir Putin. The Russian leader indicated that the talks focused on economic development of impoverished North Korea.

Iraq and North Korea, along with Iran, make up what U.S. President Bush has labeled the "axis of evil" because of their attempts to obtain weapons of mass destruction.

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