PARIS -- The United States' European allies in the Persian Gulf standoff, while formally supporting the United Nations demand that Iraq withdraw from Kuwait, have quietly agreed that another U.N. demand -- requiring Iraq to restore the preinvasion government in Kuwait -- would not alone be worth fighting for.
At a meeting of European Community leaders in Rome last weekend and at a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, )) Belgium, yesterday, both bodies repeated their insistence that Iraq leave Kuwait and restore Kuwait's sovereignty and "legitimate government" or face the prospect of war after the Jan. 15 deadline imposed by a U.N. resolution.
"[A] complete Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait and the restoration of the sovereignty and legitimate government of Kuwait are unequivocal conditions for a peaceful solution. There can be no partial solutions," NATO foreign ministers declared after their meeting yesterday.
The EC, at its meeting, issued a similarly tough statement.
But in private meetings at the European summit Friday and Saturday, French President Francois Mitterrand broached the idea that the restoration of Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, Kuwait's emir before the Aug. 2 invasion, was secondary, participants at the meeting said.
Mr. Mitterrand said that while restoring the Kuwaiti ruling family to power had the same legal value as the other U.N. resolutions, it was of "secondary" value politically, said Foreign Minister Gaston Poss of Luxembourg.
"If we manage to get the evacuation of Kuwait, the main claim will have been ensured, and the restoration of a legitimate government -- the emir or any other one -- becomes a secondary matter," Mr. Poss quoted the French leader as saying. "Mr. Mitterrand has made this distinction, which everybody shares."
At the weekend summit, Pio Mastrobuoni, the Italian spokesman, caused something of a stir when he reported that Mr. Mitterrand had proposed that the summit offer assurances to Iraq that it would not be attacked if it withdrew from Kuwait.
Hubert Vedrine, Mr. Mitterrand's spokesman, denied the Italian account, noting that the EC could hardly be in a position to give Iraq assurances when it is Washington that is spearheading the military coalition against Baghdad.
Mr. Poss, whose country assumes the rotating presidency of the EC next month, suggested that such an assurance had at least been discussed at the summit. Although it did not appear in the final communique, he said it was implicit in the EC's assessment of U.N. Resolution 678, laying out the basis for a military attack against Iraq.
"It's not included in the declaration, but that's how we interpret Resolution 678," Mr. Poss said. "If there's an evacuation, there's no more risk of a military action." He added that Mr. Mitterrand's position "didn't create any controversy here."
While Mr. Mitterrand has refrained from publicly straying far afield of U.N. resolutions, a French presidential aide confirmed Mr. Mitterrand's belief that restoring the Kuwaiti ruling family should not have been placed on the same legal footing as the other principal U.N. resolutions: the release of all foreign hostages and securing a complete Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.
Restoring the Kuwaiti ruling family was given a top priority in U.N. resolutions at U.S. insistence, diplomatic sources said.
But the question of restoring the Kuwaiti monarch is not considered the one most likely to touch off a war or highlight divisions in the coalition against Iraq. More likely, analysts note, Iraq may try a partial withdrawal from Kuwait shortly before the Jan. 15 deadline for a complete pullout -- leaving Washington and its allies to determine whether to wage war over the two islands Iraq might continue to occupy and the Rumallah oil field.