Soviets Offer to Leave Gulf if West Goes First
The Soviet Union, seeking to prevent an increased American presence in the Persian Gulf, offered today to withdraw its 10-ship naval task force from the area--if the United States, Britain and France remove their gulf forces.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Boris Pyadyshev also said Soviet withdrawal of its five warships, three mine sweepers, a frigate and a communications ship is conditional on steps being taken to end the nearly 7-year-old Iran-Iraq war.
“We propose as soon as possible the removal of all military ships belonging to states not adjoining the Persian Gulf, with the understanding that decisive steps be taken simultaneously with that in order to end the war between Iraq and Iran.
“If the American forces will be withdrawn, if the naval forces of Britain and France are withdrawn too . . . the Soviet Union undoubtedly will join such steps and Soviet naval ships will undoubtedly be withdrawn from the Persian Gulf region.”
The Soviet statement came two days after White House chief of staff Howard Baker said the United States might reconsider its decision to send the battleship Missouri and escort ships into the region later this month if the Soviets pull out their forces.
Pyadyshev said Baker’s comments were being viewed favorably by the Kremlin and could lead to a breakthrough in tensions in the region.
“I would like to once again stress that in Moscow we have noted with interest the statements made by Mr. Baker and if our understanding of those statements is correct, this does open up certain possibilities for a joint search for a settlement in the Persian Gulf and reduction of tensions there,” Pyadyshev said.
But White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater made clear Monday that the United States has “had a presence in the gulf for 40 years (and) will continue to have a presence,” regardless of what the Soviets do.
The White House also tried to recast Baker’s comments as a willingness to reconsider the expansion of the American presence in the gulf if the Soviets pull out and Iran and Iraq agree to U.N. Security Council terms for a cease-fire.
Last Friday, the Kremlin issued a rare policy statement through the Tass press agency warning the United States that sending more ships into the gulf region would heighten tensions in the Iran-Iraq war and could provoke an international crisis.
The statement rejected U.S. claims that its naval presence in the gulf is an effort to protect civilian shipping.