Soviets Press Iraqi Envoy on Hostages' Fate


Soviet officials pressed an Iraqi envoy Tuesday for the release of thousands of foreigners held in Iraq and Kuwait and insisted that although Moscow is receptive to proposals from Baghdad, it will be satisfied with nothing less than Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait.

The firmer Soviet line was enunciated a day after Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, acknowledging that his position is not consistent with that of Western countries, said Iraq's offer to free Westerners in exchange for a U.S. military pullback from the Persian Gulf is "worthy of attention."

A Foreign Ministry spokesman, Yuri A. Gremitskikh, told reporters Tuesday that the main virtue of the Iraqi offer is its expression of willingness to defuse the crisis by diplomatic means and to consent to a multinational force defending Saudi Arabia.

But he said the Iraqi offer still falls short of the mark.

The Soviet Union "will not reject out of hand initiatives from any quarter," he said. "At the same time, we cannot help but mention that the whole reason for the crisis, the occupation of Kuwait by Iraq, is practically left aside."

According to Tass, the official Soviet news agency, Iraqi Deputy Premier Saadoun Hammadi met with Soviet Prime Minister Nikolai I. Ryzhkov and warned him that if Western navies use force to blockade his country, it will lead to a "sharp rise in the danger of an armed conflict."

Tass said Ryzhkov replied that the Soviet Union will observe the U.N.-approved economic sanctions against Iraq and insisted that Iraq withdraw from Kuwait--a move he said the world would welcome "as the victory of wisdom and right."

Bringing up the subject of the thousands of foreigners detained in Iraq and occupied Kuwait, the Soviet prime minister reminded Hammadi of "the need to observe their rights, above all to free exit . . . without any discrimination," Tass said.

Meanwhile, President Mikhail S. Gorbachev cut short his vacation in the Crimea and returned to Moscow. His immediate plans were not announced, but Hammadi's schedule appeared flexible, and a meeting with him could not be ruled out.

Gorbachev has already denounced the Aug. 2 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait as "perfidy."

The last of several hundred Soviet citizens evacuated from Kuwait were reported to be en route to Jordan, but as many as 9,000 others are still in Iraq. Soviet officials have said they have Iraq's consent to bring out women and children, but the status of about 5,000 men there is not clear.

Gremitskikh, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, did not refer to these people as hostages--as the United States now has--but as detainees.

He sought to minimize Monday's suggestion that the Soviet Union could act as go-between in talks to bring about the release of 3,000 Americans and thousands of other Westerners held in Iraq.

Shevardnadze had said his government would not relish the role of mediator but that its duty is "to take into account the interests of other states."

Gremitskikh, however, said he does not see any need at this point for the Kremlin to act as mediator because Western countries have diplomatic relations with Iraq and can speak for themselves.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World