Russian Foreign Minister opposes NATO force in Balkans
In his first major newspaper interview since he was appointed on September 11, Igor Ivanov pledged to stick closely to the policies of his predecessor Yevgeny Primakov, who is now prime minister.
"Unfortunately there is a danger (of force being used) and NATO does not hide the fact that there are different variants for using force in the Balkans. So our task now is to not allow it," Ivanov told the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper.
"You cannot solve the Kosovo problem by force. It would only make the situation worse," he said in an interview given at the United Nations last week.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation wants Serbia to end a crackdown on separatists in Kosovo and withdraw Yugoslav army troops from the southern province where ethnic Albanians heavily outnumber Serbs.
The United States and its allies have threatened Belgrade with NATO air strikes if it does not call a ceasefire in the seven-month conflict.
Russia dropped resistance last week to a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding a ceasefire and saying "further action" might be considered to enforce the demands.
Moscow says this does not constitute backing use of force and that a further resolution would be needed if NATO is to launch air strikes force, which would give Russia the chance to veto such plans.
Ivanov, 53, was reiterating Russia's often stated position on use of force in the Balkans, where it is seeking a leading role because of traditional ties with its fellow Orthodox Christian Slavs in Serbia.
Ivanov, until now first deputy foreign minister, said he was not about to make major shifts in policy and that any changes he makes will be ones planned before Primakov's departure.
He said he would do his best to persuade the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, to ratify the 1993 START-2 treaty reducing the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. The U.S. Senate has ratifed the accord but the Duma has withheld support for political reasons and because of the cost of implementing it.
Ivanov pledged continued efforts to ensure the Baltic states guaranteed the rights of their Russian speakers.
He said a lot of work had to be done with Belarus to build on a largely unfulfilled "union treaty" signed in 1996 which was supposed to create a unified state with freedom of movement and trade and new supranational institutions.
Ivanov played down suggestions that Primakov, who was visiting Belarus on Wednesday, would play the decisive role in foreign policy. President Boris Yeltsin would keep that prerogative as head of state, he said.
"The president heads foreign policy. All that remains in force and there are no changes in that regard," he said.
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