- The Washington Times - Friday, December 13, 2002

From combined dispatches
The United States and Russia yesterday concluded their preliminary assessments of Iraq's weapons declaration, focusing on how sensitive technology was acquired and put to use, a U.S. official said.
The assessments were turned in to chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the official told the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.
The three other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council Britain, France and China are supposed to provide their assessments as well by today.
Mr. Blix and Mr. ElBaradei are to remove sensitive sections of the declaration and distribute copies Monday to the 10 other members of the council.
There was no immediate word on what the U.S. and Russian analyses said.
But President Bush said in an interview with ABC News that his gut feeling about Saddam Hussein is that "he is a man who deceives, denies."
Iraq has insisted it has no weapons of mass destruction.
Meanwhile, the Russian company Lukoil said that Iraq has scrapped a $3.7 billion oil-field pact, dealing a blow to Moscow's hopes of keeping a strong economic foothold there after any potential U.S. military action.
A Lukoil spokesman said an Iraqi deputy oil minister had told company President Vagit Alekperov by letter that the contract to develop Iraq's huge West Qurna oil field had been canceled on Dec. 9.
In an angry reaction, spokesman Alexander Vasilenko said Lukoil would challenge the cancellation of the 1997 deal regarded as the jewel in the crown of Russian contracts in Iraq in the courts.
Iraqi Oil Minister Amir Mohammed Rasheed, attending an Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries meeting in Vienna, Austria, would say only that contracts were liable to cancellation if companies did not fulfill their drilling obligations.
Australian officials said yesterday that Iraq also has slashed its imports of Australian wheat by almost half, several months after Baghdad threatened such action for Canberra's strong support of a U.S. campaign to overthrow Saddam.
An Australian Wheat Board spokesman said Iraq this week confirmed it would cut its Australian wheat imports to 1 million tons in 2003 from 1.8 million tons this year.
Russia, with a long-standing partnership with Iraq going back to Soviet times, has fought hard to protect its economic contracts and interests there as the prospects of U.S. military action have grown.
Apart from Lukoil's West Qurna deal, Russian oil firms won the majority of the 2001 contracts to lift Iraqi crude under the U.N. "oil-for-food" program.
Moscow wants to recover $8 billion to $12 billion in old Soviet debt from Baghdad.
The future of Iraq's crude reserves, the world's second-largest after Saudi Arabia's, are at the center of a diplomatic tug-of-war between countries hoping to grab a share of Baghdad's oil wealth once U.N. sanctions are lifted.
Anxious that its economic interests could be imperiled by unilateral U.S. military action, Russia pressed hard for changes before backing the U.S.-sponsored U.N. Security Council resolution giving Iraq a last chance to disarm or face a U.S. threat of war.
Late last month, Mr. Bush went out of his way publicly to allay Russian President Vladimir Putin's fears.
He told Russia's NTV television that if there was a change of regime in Baghdad, "We fully realize that Russia has economic interests in Iraq, as do other countries. Of course these interests will be taken into account."


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