Iraqi President Saddam Hussein appeared Tuesday to open the way to dialogue for the first time since the Persian Gulf War began, announcing that he is willing to discuss "a peaceful, political, equitable and honorable solution" to the crisis. The White House said the offer lacks a key ingredient--a pullout from Kuwait.
The sudden announcement, broadcast late Tuesday night on state-run Baghdad Radio, quoted the Iraqi leader as saying he is willing to "cooperate" with the Soviet Union and possibly other "nations or agencies" to end the war.
Hussein attached a condition, according to the broadcast: The allies must stop bombing Iraq before he begins talking peace. Four weeks of heavy allied air raids have destroyed most of Iraq's key military and government installations.
According to the Baghdad Radio report, monitored outside Iraq, Hussein made the offer Tuesday in a meeting with Soviet envoy Yevgeny M. Primakov, who also gave the Iraqi leader a message from Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
There was no immediate confirmation of the Baghdad Radio report from Soviet officials.
In Washington, the White House responded with decided coolness to the report, according to the Reuters news service. Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater said details of the Hussein-Primakov meeting were lacking, but he stressed that "finding a solution would have to start with Iraq getting out of Kuwait and complying with the U.N. resolutions" demanding an Iraqi withdrawal from the occupied emirate.
Earlier Tuesday, Vitaly N. Ignatenko, Gorbachev's press secretary, said Primakov was not carrying any new Soviet proposals with him, "just some ideas."
"Primakov has not brought anything contradicting the United Nations resolutions," Ignatenko told correspondents in Moscow. Rather, he will be pressing the argument once again that Iraq, to avoid even greater casualties and destruction, must heed the U.N. resolutions and withdraw its troops unconditionally from Kuwait.
"Mr. Primakov has no secrets," Ignatenko said. "He has not brought any secret protocols, any secret agreements. And our influence on Baghdad, as we have already seen, is very small."
Until Iraq invaded Kuwait, the Soviet Union had been Baghdad's chief arms supplier.
Ignatenko also sought to reassure the United States and other Western countries that Soviet support of the U.N. resolutions on Kuwait remains undiminished despite Moscow's sharpening criticism of the way the war is being waged, most of it unofficial but some of it from Gorbachev and senior officials.
"We support all the resolutions intended to force Saddam Hussein to implement the original U.N. Security Council resolution on the withdrawal of Iraqi troops and the restoration of Kuwaiti sovereignty," he said, adding, " . . . But President Gorbachev is free to state and explain his point of view."
In the brief Baghdad Radio announcement, President Hussein was quoted as saying: "Iraq is prepared to extend cooperation to the Soviet Union and other nations and agencies in the interest of finding a peaceful, political, equitable and honorable solution to the region's central issues, including the situation in the Gulf."
The broadcast made no mention of an Iraqi pullout from Kuwait, which has long been a U.S. demand before any negotiations could begin.
In its late-night broadcast, Baghdad Radio also quoted Primakov, a long-time acquaintance of Hussein, as telling Iraqi Foreign Minister Tarik Aziz that he was appalled by the civilian casualties caused by the allies' relentless air assault on the capital.
"It is appalling and regrettable that residential districts have been targeted and civilians hurt," the broadcast quoted the Soviet envoy as saying.
Hussein's apparent readiness to negotiate came after a day of hard-line pronouncements from his closest aides--among them a vow not to surrender to the allies--and after yet another day of massive aerial bombardment that destroyed two more key installations in the Iraqi capital.
"Either we die as martyrs or achieve victory," Taha Yassin Ramadan, Iraq's deputy prime minister and a key member of Hussein's ruling Revolutionary Command Council, said in Iraq's state-run daily newspaper Al Jamhuriya.
Meanwhile, the 102-member Nonaligned Movement, meeting in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, drafted a new plan Tuesday aimed at ending the Gulf War and is planning to send a delegation to Iraq within the next few days.
But the foreign ministers who drafted the peace proposal said they were "under no illusions" that they had found "a magic formula" to end the war.
Yugoslav Foreign Minister Budimir Loncar, who summoned representatives of 14 nations and the Palestine Liberation Organization to the Belgrade conference, said the movement is acting quickly, concerned that the war is about to escalate and more devastating weapons might be used.
Under the informal proposal agreed to at the Belgrade meeting, a small delegation would visit Iraq with a rough outline for a settlement that generally embraces the conditions set forth in the series of U.N. resolutions.
If encouraged by Iraq's response, the Nonaligned delegation would travel to Washington to consult with American leaders. There would then be a meeting of the Nonaligned Movement coordinating body to propose a formal settlement plan.
Hussein has rejected numerous settlement proposals presented by the United Nations, Arab neighbors and other international bodies because they have made a cease-fire conditional on Iraq's immediate withdrawal from Kuwait.
Loncar made clear that the Nonaligned Movement plan also contains that and other conditions laid out by the U.N. Security Council.
However, members of the Nonaligned Movement feel that because of their history as being a voice for countries overlooked by the superpowers, a proposal coming from them could be more acceptable to Hussein.
The position reportedly taken by the Belgrade meeting bears close resemblance to a five-point proposal being pushed by Iran, in which Iraq would be required to withdraw from Kuwait, Western forces would leave the Gulf area and an Islamic peacekeeping force would patrol border areas until a final settlement could be negotiated. It also reportedly envisions an overall Middle East peace conference.
In other diplomatic developments:
* French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas met Soviet President Gorbachev for two hours in Moscow.
Dumas said both countries confirmed their commitment to the U.N. resolution allowing the use of force to expel Iraq from Kuwait. Dumas, who also met with Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander I. Bessmertnykh and Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov, said he and the Soviet officials also agreed that a Middle East peace conference should be held after the war.
* German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher said after talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo that Bonn would give Egypt $105 million in immediate aid and play a constructive role in reducing its foreign debt.
He also said Germany would provide an unspecified number of so-called sniffer tanks, which can detect chemical weapons, for Egyptian forces fighting against Iraq.
* The U.N. Security Council is scheduled to meet formally on the Gulf crisis late today for the first time since the war broke out.
Times staff writers Michael Parks in Moscow and Carol J. Williams in Belgrade contributed to this report.