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BACKGROUND REPORT - March 29, 2003: Russia / Iraq - 2003-03-28

This is the VOA Special English Background Report.

On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin again called on the United States to end the war in Iraq. He said the only way to solve what he called "the Iraqi problem" is to renew diplomatic efforts. But Russia has its own diplomatic problem with the United States. This involves reported sales of military equipment to Iraq by Russian companies.

The Bush administration says one company sold devices that could interfere with positioning signals from satellites. American-led forces use these signals to guide bombs and missiles. The United States says two other Russian companies sold anti-tank missiles and devices that help soldiers see at night.

Bush administration officials say they had tried for months to get the Russian government to act. Then, last Sunday, the United States went public with its protests. The next day, Presidents Bush and Putin discussed the issue by telephone. Mister Putin said his government had investigated the reports of military sales. He dismissed the accusations. Later, the Russian president said the dispute could damage relations with the United States.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States had just given Russia new intelligence information. He told Congress that this evidence about military sales had been gathered since the war began. Mister Powell said Russia promised to fully investigate the new information. He said the issue, if not settled, could become what he called a "major difficulty" in American-Russian relations.

In the past, American officials have described better relations with Russia as an important success for the administration. But Russia is not part of what the administration calls the "coalition of the willing" in the fight to disarm Iraq and remove its leader, Saddam Hussein.

On Friday, President Putin said the world faces its most serious crisis since the end of the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union. He said countries must act to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Iraq. In Iraq Friday, the first ships arrived with aid in the port of Umm Qasr.