MOSCOW -- The Soviet Union thinks Saddam Hussein did not fully believe that the U.S.-led alliance would launch a war against Iraq, a high Soviet official said yesterday.
Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander M. Belonogov told the parliament that Moscow continued intensive diplomatic contacts with Iraq in a last-minute attempt to head off war.
From many hours of meetings with the Iraqi president in recent weeks, many of them conducted by him, Mr. Belonogov said, Soviet officials report that Mr. Hussein appeared to view U.S. war threats as psychological gamesmanship.
"We get the impression that the Iraqi leadership still does not really believe in the decisive mood of the American administration and other participants in the coalition to use force," Mr. Belonogov said.
"We told Saddam Hussein we have no doubts about the full war-readiness of the Americans, who can at any moment after Jan. 15 make a decision to use force," he said.
"And it will mean a catastrophe, first of all for Iraq and the Iraqi people," he said.
Yesterday, Soviet officials still were trying to persuade Saddam Hussein to start leaving Kuwait in return for the promise of an international conference on the Mideast, including the Palestinian problem.
As Baghdad's key ally and chief arms supplier for many years, the Soviet Union still has relatively large influence with Iraq.
Despite the recent strain in U.S.-Soviet relations as a result of Soviet army violence against civilians in Lithuania, President Mikhail S. Gorbachev has repeatedly stressed that the Soviet Union shares the U.S. position condemning Iraqi aggression.
Soviet liberals believe that the timing of the crackdown in the Baltic republics is dictated in part by the gulf crisis. Many reformers expected that when the United States opened an attack, right-wing forces in the Soviet Union would move decisively to establish a dictatorship, possibly under Mr. Gorbachev.