PRESIDENT BUSH spoke with obvious conviction in his State of the Union speech on the war in the Gulf, gave evidence that he has spent some time considering its moral aspects and made, once again, his familiar case for U.S. intervention. His congressional and other governmental audience in the House chamber, including those who had and have misgivings about his policy, seemed at pains to express solidarity with the president. In an odd way at least as relevant was the effort, more or less simultaneously announced, that the United States and the Soviet Union were now actively also trying to achieve some solidarity -- trying to improve their cooperation in the Middle East. Tuesday evening's statement by the two foreign secretaries could deepen the capacity of their countries to work together in the Gulf now and in the broader region later.
A hint of a separate approach had appeared in the Soviet position on Iraq, and so it was useful for Secretary of State James Baker and Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh to get more clearly back on the same main lines of policy. Their talks also produced a new bid for a cease-fire in return for "unequivocal commitment" backed by "concrete steps" to Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. Israelis noted anxiously that they had not been consulted. But Saddam Hussein is being offered nothing not previously available to him except -- a huge except -- the opportunity to spare his country a war that is no longer a future threat but a daily reality.
The most intriguing words in the Baker-Bessmertnykh statement pledge a common post-crisis thrust to crank up a "meaningful" Mideast peace process. This entails a timely and necessary effort to elbow aside Saddam Hussein's claim to be the lone champion of the Palestinian cause -- and to do this without acknowledging the direct linkage of Kuwait to Palestine under his patronage. In appropriate concern for Israel, the new statement addresses some of its familiar anxieties. The statement assigns Soviets and Americans a central post-crisis role, as against the United Nations (unmentioned as a conference sponsor or anything else) and other parties (mentioned only in passing), and among prospective peace partners it cites "Arab states" and "Palestinians," bypassing the PLO.
President Bush, in his State of the Union address, reported new Soviet assurances to reopen dialogue and move away from violence in the Kremlin-enflamed Baltics. This is the specific issue that earlier this week forced cancellation of his February arms control summit with Mikhail Gorbachev. These latest Baltic and Mideast developments are pieces of a larger, deeply serious attempt by the two men to keep the new and faltering U.S.-Soviet relationship on track.