UNITED NATIONS -- Iraq demanded yesterday that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad supply the names of non-diplomats who may be hiding in embassy compounds, reiterating its earlier threat to execute anyone protecting foreigners.
Secretary of State James A. Baker III swiftly rejected the demand and said it would not affect U.S. policy.
"We've received a note to that effect. . . . It falls under the heading of the principle of the three R's, I think: We've read it, it's repugnant and we reject it."
The communication came in the form of an Iraqi government circular. It repeated Iraq's Aug. 26 warning that hiding a foreigner from authorities is a crime of espionage punishable by death.
It asked the U.S. Embassy to inform the Iraqi government whether any of its citizens or citizens of other countries were staying at the mission.
Initial reports of the circular caused a widespread interpretation that Iraq was threatening to execute those who were being hidden.
But a senior U.S. official said the United States viewed it as meaning that in Iraq's eyes, "housing the foreigners is the crime." Acknowledging the ambiguity, one official said, "Find yourself an Iraqi lawyer."
Mr. Baker, asked about the circular during a photo opportunity with Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy, said that "having rejected it, I think you would conclude that it doesn't affect the policy approach which the United States is following. Nor does it affect, quite frankly, our view that all countries should observe the basic standards of international norms in dealing with diplomats, with diplomatic immunity and, frankly, dealing with basic principles of international law at The Hague."
There are more than 900 Americans still trapped in Iraq and Kuwait, some of them seriously ill, the State Department has said. Many of the men are in hiding.
At a meeting between Mr. Baker and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze yesterday, both agreed on the need for steadily increasing pressure on Iraq's Saddam Hussein, a senior State Department official said later.
While the Soviets had been intent on seeking a political solution to the crisis, Mr. Shevardnadze signaled Tuesday a much more forceful stance more closely in line with that of the Bush administration.
The two foreign ministers also agreed that proliferation of chemical, biological and nuclear weaponry -- highlighted by Iraq's past use of chemical weapons and its pursuit of nuclear arms -- has to gain higher prominence on their shared agenda, the official said.
Mr. Baker's discussion with Israeli Foreign Minister Levy advanced the prospect of U.S. housing loan guarantees for settlement of Soviet Jewish immigrants in Israel.
The United States had expressed fears that U.S. subsidies could indirectly help more Israelis settle in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.