Gulf military accord eludes Bush Gorbachev insists Soviet cooperation can't be bought

September 10, 1990|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Sun Staff Correspondent

HELSINKI, Finland -- Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev yesterday sharply rejected President Bush's suggestion that the Soviet Union might be rewarded with economic assistance for its cooperation on the Persian Gulf crisis.

"It would be very oversimplified and very superficial to judge that the Soviet Union could be bought for dollars," Mr. Gorbachev said after Mr. Bush twice linked the Soviet stand against Iraq to better prospects for Western economic aid.

It was a revealing moment for Mr. Gorbachev, a flash of emotion that dramatized Soviet political sensitivity about the fact that its rapprochement with the West comes at a time of domestic economic crisis.

Conservative opponents of Mr. Gorbachev's reforms repeatedly have charged that perestroika amounts to a sellout of Soviet security interests in order to obtain Western handouts.

In fact, the outcome of the Helsinki summit suggests that Mr. Gorbachev did anything but cave in to U.S. wishes in the Iraq crisis.

Mr. Gorbachev did not agree to pull out the Soviet military specialists remaining in Iraq. He stuck tothe previous Soviet stance that they will leave as contracts expire. Their number already has declined from 196 to about 150, he said.

He did not budge from his insistence that the crisis can be solved by political means. Soviet readiness to contribute troops to a United Nations peacekeeping force -- reaffirmed by Soviet officials just before the summit -- was not mentioned by either president at yesterday's press conference.

He received a U.S. endorsement for continuing Soviet diplomatic contacts with Iraq, which have made some U.S. officials nervous. Mr. Bush said such contacts could help persuade Iraq to comply with U.N. sanctions.

And Mr. Gorbachev achieved a major Soviet objective for the meeting -- a public promise from President Bush that U.S. forces will be withdrawn as soon as "the security needs of the area have been met."

Soviet military officials have complained that the United States is using the current crisis to create a permanent, large-scale military presence in the Persian Gulf.

Soviet generals may not be entirely satisfied by Mr. Bush's rather open-ended formula for a pullout date. But Mr. Gorbachev immediately expressed his approval, declaring Mr. Bush's remark "a very important statement."

Mr. Gorbachev, whose relationship with the Soviet military hasbeen contentious, now can insist that the massive U.S. buildup a short distance from the southern Soviet border is directed only at Iraq, not at the Soviet Union.

But Mr. Bush may inadvertently have given Mr. Gorbachev's critics at home an opening on the question of whether Soviet positions on international issues are up for sale.

Asked about possibilities for Western aid to the ailing Soviet economy, Mr. Bush replied: "Given the common stand that the Soviet Union and the United States have taken at the United Nations, it seems to me that we should be as forthcoming as we possibly can in terms of economics, and I plan to do that."

Mr. Bush may have been thinking of the Soviet public, lined up for bread and presumably only pleased that there might be material dividends from Mr. Gorbachev's stand on the Iraq crisis.

But the same Soviet public wants to believe that Mr. Gorbachev's "new political thinking" in foreign policy is motivated by common sense and justice, not by mercenary considerations.

As he continued, it was clear that Mr. Bush was oblivious to Soviet sensitivity about the appearance that a bargain had been struck.

"I think this remarkable cooperation that has been demonstrated by the Soviet Union at the United Nations gets me inclined to recommend as close cooperation in the economic field as

possible. And I will be saying this to the Congress when I get

back," he said.

Mr. Gorbachev responded quickly: "I see that there is an attempt being made to link, to establish a link between this [economic aid] and disagreements or the lack of disagreements."

He explained that the Soviet stand on Iraq was a logical result of improved U.S.-Soviet relations and changes in Soviet foreign policy.

"I wouldn't want President Bush's reply to give rise to the opinion that the Soviet Union is going to align a certain sum [of money] to a certain behavior," he said.

While the Soviet Union could not be "bought for dollars," he went on, "We do look forward to cooperation in this very serious time of far-reaching changes in our economy -- and that's normal."

After the news conference, Bush administration officials did their best to undo the damage.

In an interview with CNN taped for broadcast this morning, Secretary of State James A. Baker III said there was "not even a suggestion [that] if you agree to a strong joint statement on the Persian Gulf, we'll be more forthcoming economically. That never, no, not a hint of that ever entered into the discussions."

The assistance mentioned by Mr. Baker does not go much beyond what has long been proposed -- an end to trade restrictions, technical economic advice and a treaty on investment. But he said Mr. Bush now supports "pushing it and getting it done" on an accelerated basis.

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