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Russia on Defensive over Alleged Equipment Sales to Iraq

Russia on Defensive over Alleged Equipment Sales to Iraq

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MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia went on a media offensive Tuesday to repeat denials of American allegations that it is selling anti-tank guided missiles, jamming devices and night-vision goggles to Iraq. It hinted that Washington also had sold sensitive equipment to other nations.

The Kremlin, which usually issues its statements by fax or through the main Russian news agencies, took the unusual step of calling news organizations and dictating a statement publicizing its version of a conversation Monday between President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The White House said Bush had called Putin to complain about the alleged sales of military equipment, which could pose a danger to American troops.

Instead, Kremlin spokesman Alexei Gromov said Putin was the one who brought up the allegations, denied them and said that Russia respects the U.N. sanctions against Iraq.

"The president of Russia also notes that the discussion concerns unproved, public declarations that can damage the relations between the two countries," Gromov said.

Gromov hinted that Putin also mentioned past situations where the U.S. had sold military equipment to other countries. The official who dictated the statement declined to name the instances or the countries involved.

Washington and Moscow have disagreed recently over issues ranging from missile-defense plans to NATO expansion. Russia sided with France and Germany to block a Bush-backed U.N. resolution sanctioning military conflict to disarm Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

At a press conference Tuesday in the Russian nuclear weapons center of Sarov, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev accused some of the United States' "closest allies" of providing dangerous nuclear equipment to Iran -- turning the tables on Washington, which has frequently accused Moscow of leaking nuclear and missile technologies to Tehran.

Rumyantsev said he was "alarmed" by press reports that an Anglo-Dutch consortium, Urenco, had provided centrifuges that could be used to enrich uranium for use in nuclear weapons, the Interfax-Military News Agency reported.

A spokesman for Urenco denied the allegation and invited Russia to produce proof. Urenco is owned by the British, German and Dutch governments and provides uranium-enrichment services for nuclear power plants.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Washington had "credible evidence" of the Russian sales and that intelligence reports indicated ongoing cooperation between a Russian company producing jamming equipment and the Iraqi military. Russian officials denied the charge.

The Washington Post reported that three Russian companies were involved in the sales. It identified two of them as KBP Tula and Aviaconversiya, a Moscow-based company, saying that KBP had supplied anti-tank guided missiles and Aviaconversiya provided the jamming devices.

U.S. officials allege that Russian technicians from a private company were in Iraq during the last few weeks to provide technical support for the GPS jammers.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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