U.S. encourages Soviet peace efforts

February 15, 1991|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The United States renewed its circumspect encouragement of a Soviet bid to end the Persian Gulf war yesterday as the first fissure appeared in the Western anti-Iraq coalition, with a warning from Spain against bombing Iraqi cities.

In a telephone call and subsequent written report, Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander A. Bessmertnykh told Secretary of State James A. Baker III that "there may be a gleam of hope" stemming from a visit to Baghdad by special envoy Yevgeny M. Primakov, the State Department said.

"We welcome any and all overtures, attempts, conversations, talks, discussions . . . if that leads to getting Saddam Hussein to abide by 12 United Nations resolutions and to leave Kuwait," said spokeswoman Margaret D. Tutwiler.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati arrives in the Soviet Union today to meet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev. Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz is due in Moscow on Sunday. Mr. Gorbachev met yesterday with Kuwait's foreign minister.

U.S. officials remain skeptical that the Soviet peace moves will produce any result and describe them as motivated partly by the need to assuage domestic opposition to Mr. Gorbachev's alignment with the United States and to carve out a role in postwar diplomacy.

The skepticism is believed to be deeper among some officials at the White House than at the State Department, where Mr. Baker has a large political stake in his relationship with the Soviets.

While expressing encouragement of the Soviet moves, Miss Tutwiler said there was nothing in the Soviet message that Mr. Baker wanted to follow up on himself.

The warning from Spain came a day after U.S. bombs caused numerous civilian deaths in Baghdad.

Spain has contributed to the allied effort, allowing the United States to base bombers there and sending three frigates to the gulf region.

A statement from the government's spokesman deplored the civilian casualties produced by the bombardment and said the Spanish government "believes the bombardments should be concentrated at the front lines" in and near Kuwait, "not at cities."

The statement said Spain's prime minister had written of his concerns to President Bush.

It also called for an investigation either by the United Nations or the Red Cross into whether Wednesday's civilian casualties stemmed from an allied error or a trap set by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

It said Iraq should give the International Red Cross access to allied prisoners of war and stressed that the outcome of the conflict depended on Mr. Hussein's willingness to comply with the U.N. Security Council resolutions.

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