WASHINGTON -- The United States and the Soviet Union told Iraq last night that a halt to hostilities would be possible if Iraq made "an unequivocal commitment to withdraw from Kuwait," backed up by "immediate, concrete steps leading to full compliance" with United Nations resolutions.
The two powers also agreed to become partners in promoting Arab-Israeli peace and regional stability once the war ends, "in consultation with other parties in the region."
A joint statement by Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander A. Bessmertnykh, issued after lengthy meeting last night, marked the first clear American embrace of a Soviet role in the Middle East peace process as well as a softening of the U.S. stance for ending the gulf war.
"The ministers continue to believe that a cessation of hostilities would be possible if Iraq would make an unequivocal commitment to withdraw from Kuwait," the statement said. "They also believe that such a commitment must be backed by immediate, concrete steps leading to full compliance with the Security Council resolutions."
The United States held the same position until Jan. 15 in explaining that Iraq could avoid the use of force against it by announcing withdrawal and starting to carry it out.
Since the war broke out Jan. 16, however, the United States has adopted a tougher tone, rejecting any pause for negotiation and pledging to keep fighting until the U.N. resolutions were fulfilled.
At a news conference Jan. 18, President Bush said, "Everybody would like to find a way to end the fighting, but it's not going to end until there is total agreement, total, total cooperation with and fulfillment of these U.N. resolutions. . . . It isn't going to end short of the total fulfillment of our objectives."
The joint statement marked a reaffirmation of the U.S.-Soviet partnership in the Persian Gulf crisis despite the resignation of former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, who had joined Mr. Baker in an early joint denunciation of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.
It said that "establishing enduring stability and peace in the region after the conflict, on the basis of effective security arrangements, will be a high priority of our two governments."
The United States has hinted at a strong Soviet role in a postwar security arrangement but has never so openly welcomed the Soviets into the Arab-Israeli peace process The Soviet Union has yet to restore full diplomatic relations with israel, although the Jewish state has dropped its opposition in including the Soviets in the process.
Mr. Bessmertnykh told reporters on leaving the State Department that the statement did not constitute linkage of the Palestinian problem with the gulf war, but the statement acknowledged that, without a peace process, it won't be possible to deal with the region's conflicts and instability.
The United States and the Soviets agreed that "a spiraling arms race in this volatile region can only generate greater violence and extremism" and that dealing "with the causes of instability and the sources of conflict, including the Arab-Israeli conflict, will be especially important."
"Indeed . . . without a meaningful peace process -- one which promotes a just peace, security and real reconciliation for Israel, Arab states and Palestinians -- it will not be possible to deal with the sources of conflict and instability in the region."
The two ministers agreed that joint efforts to promote peace, "in consultation with other parties in the region," will be "greatly facilitated and enhanced" after the war.
The two countries' record in solving other regional conflicts show they "can make a substantial contribution to the achievement of a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East," the statement said, hinting at a process in which the United States would exert leverage on Israel, and the Soviet Union on its Arab allies.
In a development related to the gulf war, the State Department summoned the ranking Iraqi diplomat here, Khalid Shewayish, yesterday to remind him of Iraqi obligations to follow international procedures on remains, should any allied troops die while in Iraqi hands.
State Department spokeswoman Margaret D. Tutwiler said that David Mack, a deputy assistant secretary, also would demand again that the Red Cross be given access to prisoners of war and that he would raise U.S. concerns about a missing CBS television news crew.
U.S. officials could not confirm Iraqi claims that a captured allied pilot had been killed in an air raid on Baghdad and that others had been wounded, but Ms. Tutwiler called the use of POWs as human shields "barbaric."
As for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's renewed threat to use biological or chemical weapons, made in an interview with CNN correspondent Peter Arnett in Baghdad, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said, "From our standpoint, the only real truth that emerges from his speech is that he must be stopped."
Secretary of State James A. Baker III, asked about Mr. Hussein's boast that there was no chance he would lose the war, said, "I would read that as whistling past the graveyard."
Meanwhile, there were reports here of a new debate at middle levels of the Pentagon over whether the United States should acquiesce in a reported Israeli move to try to get rid of Scud missiles in western Iraq.
The debate apparently hasn't reached policy-makers, who from all accounts continue to want Israel to stay out of the conflict. Asked yesterday whether the United States still appreciated Israeli restraint, Ms. Tutwiler replied, "Absolutely." She said State Department officials were unaware of new Israeli pressure.