Soviets oppose further use of U.S. force against Iraq

March 16, 1991|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Sun Staff Correspondent

MOSCOW -- The Soviet Union opposed yesterday any further use of U.S. force against Iraq despite Saddam Hussein's alleged violation of agreements reached when Persian Gulf fighting stopped.

The blunt statement came as talks between Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev ended without a clear sign that the close superpower cooperation during the crisis would continue in the postwar search for Arab-Israeli peace.

Mr. Baker, asked whether the Soviet Union could be a constructive partner in the effort, said he hoped so but added, "Obviously, we will have to see."

Yesterday's meetings also failed to break a deadlock over the meaning of a signed conventional forces agreement, leaving its ratification in doubt and progress on a long-range weapons pact and the setting of a summit date on hold.

Mr. Baker said it was the first time in his tenure as secretary that such a high-level session had failed to produce progress on arms control.

Speaking to reporters after the Baker-Gorbachev talks, Foreign Minister Alexander A. Bessmertnykh said the United Nations resolution authorizing the gulf war was intended only for the conflict over Kuwait.

"There are no other grounds for use of armed forces" in Iraq or against Iraq, he said.

President Bush said Thursday that Iraq's use of combat helicopters against its people would delay a cease-fire, without which U.S. forces could not be withdrawn from Iraq.

The United States also has warned Iraq of grave consequences if it used chemical weapons against its own population. Mr. Baker said yesterday that Iraq was violating agreements reached by U.S. and Iraqi military commanders when the fighting ended and that those agreements must be respected.

Mr. Gorbachev, asked before his meeting with Mr. Baker to comment on the United States' obvious hope to see Mr. Hussein ousted, said that the United States and the Soviet Union had agreed during President Ronald Reagan's tenure on the principle of "freedom of choice" for every nation.

"Based on that, let the Iraqi people take care of that," he said.

His view didn't clash directly with the public stance of the United States, which has also said that the Iraqi people should decide Mr. Hussein's fate.

But U.S. officials also have insisted on maintaining sanctions against Iraq for as long as Mr. Hussein stays in power.

Mr. Baker has made a serious effort to keep the Soviets abreast of his postwar diplomacy, aimed at fostering reconciliation between Israel and Arab states and talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

U.S.-Soviet cooperation almost came unhinged just before the allied ground war began, with the Soviets making a final bid for a diplomatic breakthrough under terms unacceptable to President Bush.

Mr. Bessmertnykh noted yesterday that the United States and the Soviet Union had gone through a difficult test at the time and passed.

The United States hopes that the Soviets can be enlisted in curbing arms sales to the region, which could mean the loss to them of lucrative hard-currency earnings.

In January, the superpowers agreed to work together to bring stability to the Middle East once the crisis ended. The Soviets have backed off the idea of an international conference on the Arab-Israeli conflict, something the United States now opposes.

Mr. Bessmertnykh also indicated that the Soviet Union would re-establish diplomatic relations with Israel soon, a move encouraged by the United States.

The arms control process is deadlocked over charges by the United States and its European allies that the Soviets are violating the Conventional Forces in Europe agreement by trying to remove three army divisions from forces covered in the pact.

U.S. officials have said the issue must be settled before a treaty on long-range nuclear forces can be wrapped up.

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