Washington and Moscow differ, at least in tone WAR IN THE GULF

February 16, 1991|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau of The Sun Karen Hosler of The Sun's Washington Bureau contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- Reaction to Iraq's condition-laden withdrawal offer threw a spotlight yesterday on a widening gap in tone, if not in substance, between Washington and Moscow as the Kremlin presses its bid to end the Persian Gulf war.

The Iraqi statement, quickly rejected by President Bush, would have imposed heavy conditions on Kuwait, the allied coalition and Israeland would have removed any U.S. military presence in the region.

In a telephone conversation last night with his Soviet counterpart, Secretary of State James A. Baker III was assured that the Soviet Union stood solidly behind the allied demand for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait and compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions, a senior administration official said.

"There were no surprises," the official said. Foreign Minister Alexander A. Bessmertnykh "didn't say anything of concern to the secretary."

But their call occurred after Kremlin officials had delivered a series of positive-sounding statements about the Iraqi offer that looked forward optimistically to a visit tomorrow by an envoy from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Mikhail S. Gorbachev's spokesman, Vitaly Ignatenko, while insisting in a CNN interview that the Soviet president would demand full implementation of U.N. resolutions, had described the offer as "the first results" of envoy Yevgeny M. Primakov's "very important work" on his recent mission to Baghdad.

Earlier, the Soviet envoy to the United Nations, Yuli P. Vorontsov, had greeted the offer as "positive news," and Mr. Bessmertnykh himself was quoted by the Tass news agency as saying that it "opens up a new stage in the development of the conflict," adding that "everything looks rather encouraging."

The Iraqi statement itself expresses "appreciation of the Soviet initiative."

U.S. officials said Thursday that they were expecting a Soviet statement yesterday describing the Primakov mission as producing hints of Iraqi compliance with at least some U.N. resolutions. In a telephone call and subsequent written message Wednesday, Mr. Bessmertnykh had told Mr. Baker that the mission offered a gleam of hope. Mr. Ignatenko and a senior administration official said yesterday that a message also had been sent to President Bush.

State Department spokeswoman Margaret D. Tutwiler insisted in response to questions yesterday that the Soviets remained supportive of the coalition.

"They voted for all 12 United Nations resolutions," she said. "And nothing that we have seen concerning the policy and the substance has changed that I am aware of."

But John P. Hannah, an analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote in the institute's publication Gulfwatch yesterday that "the Soviets may press the United States to offer, in return for Iraq's withdrawal, certain guarantees Baghdad is seeking that will leave it in a far more powerful post-war position than the allied coalition optimally desires."

The Soviets had been expecting Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz tomorrow, but Mr. Ignatenko said yesterday he did not know whether Mr. Aziz would be the envoy sent.

Mr. Primakov warned yesterday that "if fighting escalated into a ground war tomorrow, that would end the possibility for a peaceful breakthrough," Reuters reported.

As it stands, the Iraqi withdrawal offer not only defies most of the relevant U.N. resolutions but also flies in the face of repeated policy statements by the United States and its principal allies.

It would require canceling all resolutions except for the Aug. 3 demand that Iraq withdraw unconditionally from Kuwait and also, at least in the U.S. interpretation, bar the restoration of Kuwait's ruling al-Sabah family.

"About the only good thing you could say about this statement is, by acknowledging United Nations Resolution 660, he appears to be finally publicly acknowledging that Kuwait is not the 19th province of Iraq," Miss Tutwiler said.

The Iraqi statement would require withdrawal not only of all coalition forces but also of the Patriot missiles the United States has supplied to Israel since the war. It would require Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights.

It said the U.S.-led coalition would have to rebuild all enterprises and installations destroyed in the war "in accordance with the best specifications," with no expense to Iraq.

Mr. Baker has said the allies would help rebuild Iraq after the war but has appeared to rule out such help if Mr. Hussein remains in power.

The statement demands forgiveness of all Iraqi debts to the gulf states and coalition members and a redistribution of wealth in the region. The economic embargo imposed on Iraq must be ended, it said.

Of longer-term significance, the statement demands that the "Arabian Gulf region" be declared "a zone free of foreign military bases and from any form of foreign military presence."

The United States has had a naval presence in the region since the late 1940s and has planned, together with the gulf states, to install enough U.S. equipment to allow a speedy defense of the oil-rich nations in case of future aggression.

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