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Ironduke
18 Dec 03,, 23:55
Russia ready for Iraq debt talks

President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow is ready to start negotiations on reducing Iraq's $8bn debt to Russia.

Russia was willing to take part in talks "in the nearest future," according to a Kremlin statement.

The president said he was prepared to discuss the issue within the Paris Club, an informal group of creditors that co-ordinates debt repayment.

Mr Putin made the remarks after meeting US President George W Bush's special envoy on Iraq, James Baker, in Moscow.


The Kremlin statement said Russia would also take into account the interests of its companies which have outstanding contracts negotiated under the former Iraqi regime.

Much of Iraq's debt to Russia is from military equipment that the Soviet Union delivered to Iraq in the 1980s when Saddam Hussein attacked Iran.

Opponent

Russia has been excluded from bidding for contracts in the reconstruction of Iraq because of its opposition to the US-led war.

Only hours before meeting Mr Baker, Mr Putin reinforced his opposition to the war in a televised phone-in show.

"Everything that is done without the UN Security Council's sanction cannot be recognised as fair or justified," the president said.

Mr Baker has already secured pledges from the governments of Britain, France, Germany and Italy for his plan to write off some of the money borrowed by the former Iraqi regime.

The US believes that reconstruction may be made more difficult unless much of Iraq's $12bn debts are written off.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3332467.stm