U.S. tries to reassure Russia in attack on envoys in Iraq

`No harm was intended,' President Putin is told

War In Iraq

April 08, 2003|By Robyn Dixon | Robyn Dixon,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

MOSCOW - National security adviser Condoleezza Rice met with President Vladimir V. Putin and other officials yesterday, a day after a Russian diplomatic convoy came under fire in the Iraq war strongly opposed by Russian leaders.

Rice listened to concerns over the incident, which occurred Sunday as Russian diplomats tried to flee Baghdad.

"We assured the Russians that no harm was intended," a senior U.S. diplomat said, adding that the United States did not accept responsibility and that the convoy was "in the wrong place at the wrong time." Five people were injured.

The attack on the convoy is just the latest incident to strain Russia-U.S. relations. Russia has demanded an investigation, but has not formally blamed the United States. Russian officials told Rice that the bullet extracted from a wounded Russian diplomat was American.

Russia's ambassador to Iraq, Vladimir Titorenko, who was in the convoy, said yesterday that the cars stopped 40 yards from U.S. military vehicles, which opened fire.

Speaking on Channel One state television, Titorenko, who was slightly hurt, held up a bullet dislodged from his car, saying: "This bullet was meant for the ambassador. If it hadn't been for this thing," he said, indicating a barrier inside the car, "the bullet would have hit me right in the head."

Despite initial denials from U.S. Central Command in Qatar that U.S. forces were in the area, a senior U.S. diplomat said yesterday that the convoy apparently was in an area "where we were engaged in fighting with Iraqi forces." The diplomat said the presence of American bullets did not prove who was firing the weapons and suggested that the incident might have been an Iraqi provocation.

Robyn Dixon writes for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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