WASHINGTON -- Iraq has offered to withdraw from Kuwait if the United States pledges not to attack as soldiers are pulled out, if foreign troops leave the region and if there is agreement on the Palestinian problem and on the banning of all weapons of mass destruction in the region, U.S. officials disclosed yesterday.
Although the White House immediately dismissed the proposal as inadequate because it contains preconditions for a pullout, other government officials described it as "interesting" because it drops Iraq's previous claims to two Kuwaiti islands and a portion of an oil field and because it signals Iraqi interest in a negotiated settlement.
As the Jan. 15 United Nations deadline approaches for an unconditional Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, Iraq has been increasingly adamant in public that it will never pull out.
A U.S. official said Iraq's proposal was made by Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz to his Yugoslav counterpart, Budimir Loncar, who was visiting Baghdad last week in an eleventh-hour bid by the Non-Aligned Movement to avert a gulf war.
Both Iraq and Yugoslavia are members of the non-aligned bloc.
Mr. Loncar, according to a U.S. official, "came back with a feeling that there were grounds for a negotiated settlement."
A State Department Mideast expert described the proposal as a "serious pre-negotiation position."
He and others said that although there can be no perceived linkage of a pullout from Kuwait with an international agreement on the Palestinian issue, European Community officials are working toward such an agreement. The European foreign ministers are expected to meet tomorrow to discuss the settlement of Mideast issues, including the future of the Palestinians, once the gulf crisis is settled.
"It's a serious move," said the State Department official of the European initiative. "But it's not linkage. We can't even think linkage. Any agreement wouldn't even be coincidental [to an Iraqi withdrawal]. Call it sequential."
U.S. officials have stated repeatedly that there is no connection between Iraq's occupation of Kuwait and Israel's occupation of territories inhabited by Palestinians. Israel has repeatedly rejected the suggestion that outside powers have the right to settle the Palestinian problem.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has said that he would withdraw from Kuwait if Israel pulled out of "Arab-occupied territories in Palestine" and if Syria left Lebanon.
Iraq's insistence that foreign troops leave the region was ambiguous, according to a government source familiar with the proposal. He said he was unsure if it meant that U.N. troops could do no peacekeeping duty in Kuwait once Iraq left, or that U.S. troops or perhaps even Egyptian troops would have to pull out of Saudi Arabia.
This source also said that Iraq's call for the removal of weapons of mass destruction from the region was problematic, because Israel has given no indication it would consider destroying its nuclear arsenal even if Iraq were to abandon its chemical, biological and nuclear warfare programs.
U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III has said publicly that the United States would not attack Iraq if it pulled entirely out of Kuwait.
A White House official said that the United States would probably guarantee not to attack if Iraq unconditionally pulled out of Kuwait.