THE HELSINKI summit conspicuously tightened the pressure on Saddam Hussein to honor the five unanimous United Nations resolutions on Iraq. Nothing like this degree of superpower consensus has been brought to bear on any like regional miscreant. That one power applying the pressure is Iraq's chief arms supplier and has cut off supplies and that the other is orchestrating a regional arms buildup defines the fix Saddam Hussein is in. Both powers meanwhile are taking part in an economic embargo and in diplomatic encirclement. To advertise and extend their agreement on Iraq was worth the trip George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev took to Helsinki.
Listening to their separate accounts of the meeting, however, one could not fail to be struck by the different subtexts. In Mr. Gorbachev's presentation was a note of pleading to Saddam Hussein, an intense appeal to be "reasonable," to show "sobriety," to consider the fateful consequences of a misstep. In reporters' questions, he said, he sensed a suggestion of Soviet and perhaps even American "indecisiveness" in the face of Iraqi violations. But it was not so, he said: Never had there been such strong, unanimous and effective resistance to aggression as had been mounted in the U.N. and the world at large.
Mr. Bush was no less determined to stress the common Soviet American ground. He made as little as he could of Mr. Gorbachev's unsatisfactory reluctance to promptly remove Soviet advisers remaining in Iraq. But he did not warn with the same urgency against the danger of a military outbreak; he may want to keep Saddam Hussein off balance. He conveyed the impression that a "political solution" must go beyond literal fulfillment of U.N. resolutions -- into agreement on a postwar Gulf order. Perhaps the difference is that Mr. Gorbachev is under pressure at home simply to put out the fire in the Gulf and get on with domestic renewal, while the pressure Mr. Bush is under is to go beyond shared U.N. goals and to undo President Hussein and his arsenal, and to do it by force if necessary.
Will the defiant Hussein be tempted to seek comfort and relief from these nuances of difference down the road? He could do so only by increasing the risk to his country and his regime. He would be better advised to acknowledge the unprecedented dimensions of the resistance his invasion has invoked and to take the road that Washington and Moscow are suggesting and respect the U.N.'s appeals.