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US Will Query Russia On Reports Of Help To Iraq

"We would take very seriously any suggestion that this may have been done, maybe to the detriment of American forces. Definitely we will raise it with the Russian government," Condoleezza Rice said. "I would hope the Russian government would take it seriously."
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Mar 27, 2006
The United States said Sunday it finds reports Russia gave Saddam Hussein intelligence, after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, "very worrying" and will seek explanations from Moscow.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley vowed to pursue the matter, as anger welled in Congress against the Russians for possibly putting US troops at risk.

Republican Senator Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, vowed to investigate the matter, and said lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee were also planning to be more fully briefed.

"We're going to have a briefing on the intelligence committee, so we'll get to the bottom of it."

Roberts told CNN television that a mole inside the US military establishment "would be a very serious issue," but added, "I am not surprised, however, by Russian spying.

I don't want to cause a major flap here, but that's what they do," he said.

Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy said the reports, if true, would warrant a review of ties with Moscow and a second look at US attendance at a Group of Eight industrialized nations summit this July in St. Petersburg.

Rice said the US administration needed time to digest a Pentagon report released Friday that charged Russia had given Saddam information on US troop movements after the US-led invasion that led to his ouster three years ago.

"Any implication that there were those from a foreign government who may have been passing information to the Iraqis prior to the invasion would be, of course, very worrying," she told CNN during a round of Sunday talk shows.

Earlier Rice had told NBC television's "Meet the Press" program: "We would take very seriously any suggestion that this may have been done, maybe to the detriment of American forces."

"Definitely we will raise it with the Russian government," the chief US diplomat said. "I would hope the Russian government would take it seriously."

Russia's SVR foreign intelligence service has denied the report, which said the Russians collected information from sources in the US Central Command in Doha, Qatar, and then delivered it to Saddam.

Rice told the "Fox News Sunday" program that she had no reason to doubt or confirm the allegations but added: "I would not jump to the conclusion that, if indeed the reports are true, that it had to be Moscow-directed."

The secretary, who was President George W. Bush's national security adviser when the Iraq war was launched, said she had been unaware of any Russian intelligence-sharing with the Iraqis.

"To my recollection, I knew nothing of these reports at the time that I was national security adviser," said Rice, who moved over to the State Department in January 2005.

The Pentagon report on Russian intelligence activities during the Iraq war comes at a time when Washington and Moscow are at loggerheads over various international issues.

The Russians are opposing US-led moves to seek a strong UN resolution against Iran for its suspected efforts to develop a nuclear bomb.

The two countries also differ on their approach to the new Palestinian government formed by the militant group Hamas and to the authoritarian regime in the former Soviet republic of Belarus.

Kennedy, speaking on CBS television's "Face the Nation" program, said the Pentagon charges were "a matter of enormous importance and consequence" that should be a top priority for the White House.

"I think we need an entirely new assessment of our relationships with Russia should this be true," he said. "I think you'd have to rethink whether we're going to the G-8 conference. Clearly, we're not going to have business as usual."

Hadley, appearing on the same program, echoed Rice's comments about the seriousness of the reports. But he was cool to the suggestion the United States boycott the St. Petersburg summit.

"I think at this point we think there's a lot of value in going forward with the G-8, partly because it's going to require the Russians to answer some tough questions, not from us but from the international community."

Source: Agence France-Presse

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