The Moscow Times
The U.S. ambassador to Russia said Washington had been aware of contacts between Russian and Iraqi spy agencies, but added that the United States needs to gather more facts before coming to definite conclusions.
“We knew that there were contacts between the intelligence services of Iraq and Russia,” Alexander Vershbow was quoted as saying in an interview published Tuesday in the Vremya Novostei daily. “But it’s still too early to make any assessments, we need more facts.”
There was no immediate reaction from the Foreign Ministry or Foreign Intelligence Service.
Russian intelligence officials have repeatedly denied having any links with Iraqi spy services, but several recent British and U.S. newspaper reports cited documents found at the office of the Iraqi spy service, Mukhabarat, that showed Iraq was receiving intelligence assistance from Russia.
For instance, The San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday said some documents showed that at least five Iraqi agents had graduated in September 2002 from a two-week course in surveillance and eavesdropping techniques at the Special Training Center in Moscow.
The newspaper said it was unclear whether the center was a privately run firm or a government agency, but cited U.S. analysts saying it would be highly unlikely that any private Russian company could train foreign intelligence agents without government permission.
A search through Russian government and commercial business directories found no company matching the Chronicle’s description. The closest that could be found was the Interdepartmental Special Training Center, a branch of the Nuclear Power Ministry in Obninsk, outside Moscow, which specializes in protecting nuclear facilities.
If proven, intelligence cooperation between Russia and Iraq could further strain Moscow’s ties with Washington. Despite the strain, Vershbow said in the newspaper interview that U.S. President George W. Bush plans to visit St. Petersburg for a long-planned summit with President Vladimir Putin in May.