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U.S. protests Russian arms sales to Iraq

By Andrea Koppel
CNN State Department Correspondent


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States said Sunday it had protested to Moscow about reports that Russian firms have sold Iraq antitank missiles, night vision goggles and jamming gear.

"Such equipment in the hands of Iraq may pose a direct military threat to U.S. and coalition armed forces," State Department spokeswoman Brenda Greenberg said. "We thus have raised the issue with the Russian government a number of times, including at senior levels, and particularly in the last two weeks."

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told Al-Jazeera television the U.N. sanctions clearly prohibited military sales to Iraq for any reason.

"I have to say at this point we don't think we've gotten satisfactory answers, but we will continue to pursue that," Boucher said. "It's a question of having provided material in violation of U.N. sanctions, not a question of some political position."

Another U.S. official with direct knowledge of these discussions said the Bush administration is "infuriated" that Moscow did not stop the sales despite the fact Russian authorities were presented with specific U.S. intelligence which included the names of the companies, addresses, telephone numbers, and other key details.

The last straw came Friday, this official told CNN, when U.S. intelligence discovered that employees of one of the Russian companies in question -- Aviaconversiaya -- were still in Baghdad helping Iraq use what is described as "highly sophisticated" electronic jamming equipment. That can interfere with global positioning equipment used by ground forces and aircraft.

"The lives of pilots are at stake here," the official explained. For this reason, he said, the Bush administration decided this weekend to give the story to the Washington Post.

The United States is "worried this equipment can disorient pilots and cruise missiles," he said.

During the past several weeks Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice got personally involved, to no avail, in seeking to persuade Moscow to crack down on the Russian companies.

The Russian ambassador to the United States, Yuri Ushukav, was called to the State Department and given a note that this would be "a last chance" for Moscow to end the sales.

The U.S. intelligence community believes that Russian intelligence may be the ones "screwing up" the situation, rather than the political side of the Russian government.

Officials say it is unclear whether Russian President Vladimir Putin "didn't know" or whether Putin's denials were simply "dishonest."

In telling the story to the news media, the Bush administration is "clearly letting Russia know people are angry about it."

"We hope the responsible Russian agencies will take our concerns seriously," Greenberg said.


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