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Powell has `excellent discussion' with Russian counterpart

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February 25, 2001 


CAIRO- (AP) - U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell had an "excellent discussion" Saturday with his Russian counterpart despite policy differences on missile defense and Iraq.

On his first extensive overseas trip, Powell also said he was open to advice on how to force Saddam Hussein to abandon Iraq's weapons programs.

Powell's 90-minute talk with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov covered missile defenses and the tough U.S. line toward Saddam. Ivanov suggested afterward that no minds were changed, but added, "We will continue to look for points of coinciding."

Speaking in Russian, Ivanov told reporters with a smile: "If you think we managed to resolve all our differences at our first meeting that would be good, but it would exceed our expectations."

Powell, who smiled broadly and put an arm around Ivanov, called Saddam "the cause of the problems" in the region and a threat to children there.

He described his first face-to-face meeting with Ivanov after two previous phone conversations as "a very, very excellent discussion" and "a very fine first meeting"

Still, Powell did not back away from U.S. differences with Moscow on Iraq. "We have a solemn obligation" to compel Saddam to eliminate his weapons of mass destruction," Powell said.

The trip prompted a protest in Iraq by about 100 lawmakers, who chanted "Down, down USA" and "Powell's trip is a trip of shame, opposed by all free Arabs." The legislators said Powell's goal was to tighten U.N. sanctions on their country.

The trip will take Powell to six countries in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf and Europe in four days.

It is not geared toward settling tough problems, such as the suspension in Arab-Israeli peacemaking, the seepage in U.N. economic sanctions against Iraq - Powell said Saddam has more revenue now than he had at the beginning of the Gulf War a decade ago - or Russia's lingering skepticism of the Bush administration's dream of a defense against missile attack.

In the last few days, the Kremlin has shown a willingness to talk about missile defenses and floated preliminary ideas about a missile shield for Europe. Powell wants to know more about Russia's views, but he said the fact that Moscow has come forward was "a breakthrough" and "the beginning of a process."

Over a long military career and then as former President George Bush's national security assistant, Powell said he had many discussions with Russian officials. "I have found if one speaks openly and candidly we can make progress if you don't shy away from the tough issues."

While Moscow's flexibility on missile defenses may have made the Ivanov meeting easier for Powell, the bombing of Iraq eight days ago by U.S. and British warplanes has hardened Arab sentiment on sanctions, Powell acknowledged.

Arab leaders were already clamoring to remove the sanctions, which are designed to force Saddam to terminate weapons programs.

"To the extent it has made my trip a little more difficult, so be it," Powell said.

But, he said, the bombing makes the point that "we will not allow the negotiating track, or whatever we are doing with respect to the sanctions, overcome what we are prepared to do militarily."

At the same time, Powell said he was open to suggestions on how to make the sanctions both leak-proof and effective with minimum impact on the Iraqi people.

"If there are aspects to the U.N. sanctions policy that are ... frustrating our ability to hold the whole regime in place then I want to know about that," Powell said.

He said, "if there is a better way to do it and not lose sight of our goal and our objective" he would take the suggestions back to Washington to President George W. Bush and to Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the United Nations.

In Jordan, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said after a one-hour meeting Saturday with Jordanian Prime Minister Ali Abu-Ragheb that he expects Washington to push for resuming Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.

Arafat said Bush "informed me in a telephone call that he's sending Powell to have a clear picture on peacemaking since the peace process is a priority to them."

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