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Documents tie Russia to Iraq weapons deal

fermentation equipment
Iraqi fermentation equipment

Russians angrily deny they violated sanctions

February 12, 1998
Web posted at: 10:37 p.m. EST (0337 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq found documents last September that indicated Russia was considering selling equipment to Iraq that could be used to make biological weapons, sources tell CNN.

However, Russian officials have angrily denied the charges and have demanded that chief U.N. weapons inspector, Richard Butler, repudiate them.

"Russia has never made any deals with Iraq in violation of the existing regime of sanctions," the Russian government said in a statement issued from the United Nations in New York.

The documents, described as "less than contracts," indicate that in 1995, Russia had agreed to sell fermentation equipment to Iraq, according to CNN's sources. That equipment can be used to make animal feed, but it can also be used to manufacture biological weapons.

Under the terms of U.N. sanctions, Russia could have applied for permission to sell the equipment to Iraq on humanitarian grounds. But Russia never applied for such permission, according to Antonio Monteiro, head of the U.N. Security Council's sanctions committee.

Unclear if Iraq received equipment

The Washington Post, which initially broke the story on the inspectors' discovery of the documents, reported that U.N. teams were uncertain whether Iraq ever actually received the equipment.

UNSCOM, the U.N.'s special commission that oversees the weapons inspection program, sent a letter to the Russians, asking for an explanation. Russian officials have confirmed that they received the letter on February 9.

However, the leaking of the information about the proposed sale to Iraq has created a rift between Russian and UNSCOM. Russian officials are convinced that Butler's group was the source of the information upon which the Post based its article.

fermentation equipment
CNN's Brent Sadler inspects Iraqi fermentation equipment last November

"Moscow expects the leadership of the special commission to provide appropriate repudiation," said the Russian government statement released in New York.

Some diplomats, however, believe the Post's information could have come through U.S. government channels.

Monteiro said that UNSCOM officials never passed along the information about the alleged Russian-Iraqi deal to the Security Council.

"We had so many briefings, and we never heard about it," he said.

Post: Russians passing UNSCOM information to Iraq

The United States and Russia have been at odds over how to get Iraq to comply with the U.N. weapons inspection program.

The Russians oppose American plans to use military force if Iraq continues to resist full compliance with U.N. mandates.

The Post also reported that U.S. intelligence agencies have privately warned U.N. officials that Russian intelligence operatives were spying on UNSCOM's activities in New York and Iraq and passing some of that information on to the Iraqis.

The Russian statement denied that charge, saying the Post article created a false "impression that the Russian representatives on UNSCOM act exclusively in the interests of Iraq."

Correspondent Eileen O'Connor and Reuters contributed to this report.

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