Rice asks Russia to look into Iraq claims
WASHINGTON, Mar 28 (Reuters) U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked Russia today to conduct a ''serious investigation'' into reports Moscow gave intelligence on U.S. military movements to Iraq at the start of the 2003 invasion.
Deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said Rice spoke via telephone to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday about alleged intelligence-sharing between Russia and Iraq before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq three years ago.
''She asked them to look into this question about documents to the Iraqis and conduct a serious investigation. She said it was important,'' said Ereli of Rice's call to Lavrov.
A Pentagon report this month said a captured April 2, 2003, document from the Iraqi minister of foreign affairs to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein stated that the Russian ambassador had funneled intelligence on U.S. plans to the Iraqi government.
Another Iraqi document, dated March 24, 2003, referred to Russian ''sources'' inside the U.S. military's Central Command headquarters in Qatar, according to the report.
''This is a report that we take seriously and we are asking the Russians to look into it,'' said Ereli.
Russia, which opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq, dismissed the Pentagon report.
''I believe this is a complete rubbish,'' Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told a news conference in Russia on Tuesday, speaking in English as he answered a question about the report. ''We have never supplied anyone with information,'' he added.
During her call with Lavrov, Rice also discussed a planned meeting in Berlin on Thursday with Lavrov and other foreign ministers from the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany, over Iran's nuclear ambitions.
In New York, Western powers on the U.N. Security Council are still battling to reach an agreement on the wording of a statement on Iran's nuclear ambitions before ministers from Russia, China, the United States, Britain and France, as well as Germany, meet in Berlin.
Ereli said there was ''progress'' at the U.N. on agreeing on a statement over Iran but he did not know whether this would be completed before Thursday's meeting.
''The sooner the better, frankly,'' he said. ''I am not going to tell you it is going to happen by a certain date. I simply don't know,'' he added.
Ereli said the focus of Thursday's Berlin meeting would be the ''medium and long-term'' plans on Iran.
Tehran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes but the West believes is a cover for bomb making.
REUTERS PDS RN0127