- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 1, 2002

U.S.-Russian pressure

The U.S. ambassador to Russia said yesterday that Washington wants to work with Moscow to pressure Iraq's Saddam Hussein into allowing the return of U.N. arms inspectors.

Ambassador Alexander Vershbow told a news conference in Moscow that the United States has no immediate plans to invade Iraq, one of three states on President Bush's "axis of evil."

Instead, he said, Washington would like to see Moscow, a Cold War ally of Iraq's, try to persuade Saddam to honor the commitments he made after his defeat in the Gulf war.

"For more than a decade, he has persistently refused to implement U.N. Security Council resolutions that make clear he must abandon all efforts to build weapons of mass destruction, and for four years he has refused to admit international inspectors," Mr. Vershbow said, referring to Saddam's expulsion of the inspectors in 1998.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov met on Monday with Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri to urge him to support the return of the inspectors. Mr. Ivanov is expected in Washington tomorrow for a meeting with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

"We want to work with Russia to put maximum pressure on Saddam Hussein. I believe working with Russia is possible because Russia has no more interest than we in allowing Saddam Hussein to acquire weapons of mass destruction," Mr. Vershbow said.

The ambassador denied a report of preparations for an attack, saying, "President Bush has not made any decisions about attacking Iraq, nor has any proposal been put on his desk."

However, he added, "Our patience is running out, particularly given Saddam's destabilizing behavior in the region. The fact that Saddam Hussein is providing rewards to the families of suicide bombers who attack Israel is just an example of his support for terrorism."

On another issue, Mr. Vershbow predicted that the United States and Russia will have an arms-reduction agreement prepared for Mr. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin to sign at their summit in May.

Both countries intend to reduce their nuclear stockpiles to about 1,700 warheads, but Russia objects to U.S. plans to mothball them instead of destroying them.

"Both presidents have made very clear to their ministers and their bureaucracies that they want this agreement finished," Mr. Vershbow said. "As a senior bureaucrat, I understand my marching orders."

AIDS in Swaziland

Mary Kanya, the ambassador from Swaziland, hopes the start of an effort to combat AIDS will help focus international attention on her tiny kingdom with one of the biggest rates of infection in Africa.

Mrs. Kanya will hold a reception tonight to introduce Washington to the Royal Initiative to Combat AIDS, a program conceived by Swazi King Mswati III. Board members are flying into town from around the world to attend the inaugural board meeting. Swazi Health Minister Dr. Phetsile Dlamini is already here. Others include Dr. Peter Piot, executive director of the U.N. AIDS program.

Mrs. Kanya said the initiative is intended to help all of southern Africa, where the AIDS epidemic is the worst. She hopes the initiative will attract grants to worthy organizations dedicated to fighting AIDS in her region. The embassy's e-mail address is [email protected]

The initiative is also pursuing innovative fund-raising efforts, including the distribution in October of a compact disc, "Songs for Life." The CD will be produced by the legendary Phil Ramone, who has worked with stars such as Frank Sinatra and Paul Simon.

Sub-Saharan Africa, where 34.3 million people have contracted the deadly disease, has the highest rate of AIDS in the world. The epidemic is severe in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia. But it may be worse for Swaziland.

The kingdom is a landlocked country surrounded by South Africa and has a population of about 1 million, with one in four infected by AIDS or the AIDS virus, HIV. Some estimates say the infection rate is as high as 34 percent.

"It could be even higher," Mrs. Kanya said yesterday.

She said the AIDS initiative began "out of despair" in 2000 when the king started the program to benefit the region, she said.

By 2010, a third of the population of Swaziland could be dead.

"King Mswati will be ruler of the forests and the trees," Mrs. Kanya said. "There won't be many people there."

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