PRESIDENT GEORGE W. Bush urged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a March 24 phone call to rein in private Russian companies that the United States has implicated in illegal arms deals with Iraq. Putin denied that Russian companies are guilty-an answer the Kremlin has been giving Washington for nearly a year and which has not satisfied the Bush administration.
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters March 24 that the United States has "credible evidence" of Russian companies supplying Iraq with weaponry prohibited by a 1990 UN arms embargo. Night vision goggles, anti-tank missiles, and equipment to jam U.S. global positioning systems are the arms at issue.
Bush administration officials have not said exactly when the deals took place or whether some are still ongoing. Secretary of State Colin Powell, however, said in a March 24 interview with Fox News that, "in the last 48 hours, I've seen even more information that causes me concern."
It also remains unclear whether the Russian government authorized the alleged transactions or has simply failed to prevent them. Speaking the same day as Fleischer, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher noted, "We don't think that we have the kind of [Russian government] oversight and interdiction that we've been asking for."
Powell said that Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has pledged that Russia will act if provided proper and sufficient evidence. "Frankly, we believe we have given them more than enough information so that they should have been able to find out the truth of this," Powell stated. The secretary added that he was "very confident of our facts" and described himself as "disappointed" in Russia's response to date. …