Disagreeing with the United States, Russia said Wednesday that Iraqi firing on U.S. and British aircraft in the no-fly zones does not constitute a violation of the new U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other U.S. officials have said they believe a recent upsurge of Iraqi anti-aircraft fire targeted at allied warplanes violates Resolution 1441, which calls on Iraq to get rid of weapons of mass destruction.
The resolution, adopted unanimously Nov. 8, returned U.N. arms inspectors to Iraq after a four-year absence and insists that Iraq show them no resistance or risk war with the United States. U.S. officials have said they consider the no-fly zone attacks to be a violation.
Iraq claims the U.S. and British patrol flights are illegal attacks on its sovereignty and frequently shoots at them.
In the latest incident, Iraqi gunners fired missiles and artillery at U.S. warplanes Wednesday, and the Americans responded by bombing three communications facilities at air defense sites in southern Iraq, U.S. officials said.
U.S. planes have attacked six air defense facilities this week. Pentagon officials said Iraq has stepped up its efforts to shoot down American and British pilots patrolling the no-fly zone over southern Iraq as U.N. weapons inspectors prepare to begin their work.
Russia's deputy U.N. ambassador, Gennady Gatilov said Wednesday that during negotiations for Resolution 1441, the council received assurances from British diplomats — including British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock — that the resolution did not refer to the no-fly zone patrols.
"He said, absolutely no, we don't mean that," Gatilov recalled Greenstock as saying.
A British diplomat confirmed that.
"Resolution 1441 is about disarmament, not about the no-fly zones in our view," said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Britain believes the legal basis for the no-fly zones is contained in a previous resolution adopted after the 1991 Persian Gulf War with the aim of halting Saddam Hussein's repression of the Iraq's Kurds and Shiites.
Britain and the United States say enforcing the no-fly zones is necessary in order to protect the two populations.
A U.S. diplomat conceded Monday that "there's open disagreement" in the Security Council on the U.S. interpretation of 1441. "It wouldn't be our strong suit if we brought it back into the council," the official said on condition of anonymity.
Gatilov said it would be wise for the United States not to try to get the council to take action against no-fly zone incidents. "I believe they understand ... that the council would not support it," the Russian ambassador said.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Tuesday he didn't think the 15 Security Council members would consider no-fly zone incidents a violation of the latest resolution.