MOSCOW, SEPT. 11 -- The United States and the Soviet Union have begun building the framework for a new long-term security arrangement for the Persian Gulf that could be put in place if the international community succeeds in forcing Iraq to retreat from Kuwait.
Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, in talks following up the superpower summit last weekend in Helsinki, discussed the prospect for a fundamental realignment of interests and political forces in the region as a result of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, according to U.S. and Soviet officials.
At the same time the superpowers discussed the new security structure in the gulf, they acknowledged that the old military force structure in Europe has become irrelevant. Sources here said the United States and Soviet Union are considering the elimination of all troop limits in the prospective treaty on conventional or non-nuclear weapons in Europe.
Baker and Shevardnadze have concluded that troop ceilings that had been tentatively set for the Conventional Forces in Europe negotiations have been "overtaken by events," primarily the Soviet decision to withdraw its troops from Eastern Europe, officials said.
If manpower limits are scrapped from the treaty, leaving all sides free to set their own troop strength, it could accelerate the negotiations toward the goal of signing this year.
On the Persian Gulf crisis, Japan pledged today to increase its aid to countries hardest hit by the consequences of the global embargo against Iraq. Japan said it may make available up to $2 billion to Iraq's neighboring states of Turkey, Jordan and Egypt.
The State Department said today that two additional charter flights have been scheduled for this week -- one Thursday and one Saturday -- to take Americans out of Kuwait and Iraq. Both planes are Boeing 747s, capable of carrying about 400 passengers each, officials said.
About 600 Americans have been evacuated so far from Iraq and Kuwait, a State Department spokesman said, leaving an estimated 1,700 U.S. citizens in Kuwait and 100 in Iraq. Iraq has said it will allow male U.S. citizens who were born in Arab countries to leave, but it continues to insist that male citizens born in the United States remain in the country.
The Voice of America today began broadcasting a message to occupied Kuwait "urgently" requesting female U.S. citizens and dependents to contact the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait "immediately" if they wish to depart because the continuation of evacuation flights cannot be guaranteed.
More embassies in Kuwait began shutting down following Iraq's cutoff of water and power. Embassies representing Austria, Bangladesh, Switzerland and Greece closed, and there were reports that Egypt's envoy had left for Baghdad. The U.S. Embassy remains staffed.
At the United Nations, meanwhile, Clovis Maksoud, the Arab League's envoy to the world body announced his resignation, citing his opposition to the U.S.-led military buildup in the gulf. At a news conference, Maksoud complained that Arab nations were losing credibility because of their failure to act together.
Shevardnadze delivered a report here today to the Supreme Soviet on Sunday's discussions between President Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in Helsinki. He said the two leaders reviewed "the overall deplorable situation in the Middle East" and that the Soviet Union was eager to begin "the real work to eliminate hotbeds of tension."
The Soviet parliament then approved the Kremlin's handling of the Persian Gulf crisis but not without some rumblings of discontent from the military over the buildup of American military power in the Middle East.
Deputies voted, 277 to 19, with 61 abstentions, to endorse the joint U.S.-Soviet statement in Helsinki insisting on Iraq's complete withdrawal from Kuwait. But a hard-line member, Col. Anatoly Petrushenko, expressed concern that the United States was moving into the Middle East without relaxing its grip in Europe.
Shevardnadze said he and Baker considered "creating the necessary Soviet-American mechanism for carrying out measures" to resolve the gulf crisis and improve the prospects for peace in the region.
U.S. officials said Baker and Shevardnadze had begun sketching out ideas for a long-term "regional security structure" for the Persian Gulf, if and when Iraq relinquishes Kuwait.
Baker initially raised this concept in testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee a week ago, suggesting that after the immediate crisis has ended, a way must be found to prevent Saddam from obtaining weapons of mass destruction and threatening other Arab states.
A senior U.S. official said the two foreign ministers focused on what appears to be "a realignment in the area -- an Arab coalition arrayed against Iraq."
If the pressure on Iraq to retreat is successful, the official added, "then you may well have a realignment of forces in the area and that may well promote a whole different set of possibilities."
Baker plans to highlight further the changing alignment on Friday when he meets with President Hafez Assad of Syria, which the United States in the past has regarded as a radical Arab state that has sponsored terrorism and been hostile to peace efforts in the region.
Baker initially described the concept of a new regional security structure as similar to the way NATO stood vigil against communism for 40 years. But in recent days, in extensive talks with moderate Arab leaders and the Soviets, Baker has begun to refine the concept somewhat. In comments this week to foreign ministers from NATO member states, he suggested it would include "intrusive" procedures to ensure that Iraq does not acquire nuclear weapons or accumulate additional stockpiles of poison gas.
Today, in reporting on the Baker-Shevardnadze talks, the U.S. official said the United States is not suggesting a "formal structure" like the post-World War II Atlantic Alliance, but something more loosely organized. The official held out the prospect that it could include nations that have not been on good terms with one another in the past, and perhaps even those that have been mortal enemies, such as Israel and many Arab states. The official suggested it could encompass both superpowers.
The Bush administration has yet to give much more definition to the concept, particularly since it is still grappling with the immediate crisis. If diplomatic pressure fails and the United States and other nations go to war against Iraq, then the issue of a regional security arrangement may be moot. But if diplomacy works -- and Gorbachev strongly urged Bush to find a political solution -- a new effort will be made, the official said, to prevent Saddam from undertaking future aggression.
In particular, the official said, Baker and Shevardnadze talked about how to prevent Saddam from obtaining nuclear weapons. By most accounts, Iraq is three to five years from possessing an atomic weapon.
A senior State Department official traveling with Baker said the United States has not decided to change its policy and accept the Soviet proposal for an international peace conference on the Middle East.
The official said the United States still believes the time is not ripe for such a conference to focus on the Arab-Israeli dispute, although the U.S. position has been that it could eventually be held. Bush and Baker have said they do not want it linked to the gulf crisis.
Gorbachev quoted Bush at the Helsinki summit as telling him that while the United States had for a long time sought to block Soviet participation in Middle East diplomacy, "it's very important for us to cooperate" now in the region.
Baker and Shevardnadze met here as foreign ministers gathered for a ceremony on Wednesday to initial an agreement that would end the rights and responsibilities of the four victorious World War II powers over the two Germanys.
Even as they discussed heightened tensions in the Persian Gulf, officials said Baker and Shevardnadze acknowledged that the troop limits agreed to in Ottawa in February had become obsolete because of Soviet plans to pull back from Eastern Europe. The Ottawa talks had set a limit of 195,000 foreign troops from each side in the central zone of Europe, and Moscow agreed to permit an additional 30,000 U.S. forces elsewhere in Europe.
According to an official familiar with the talks, Shevardnadze has told Baker on two occasions, first in their talks in Siberia last month and again today, that these troop limits are obsolete because Soviet soldiers are exiting Eastern Europe. This official said an internal American review has begun about what troop levels would be sufficient, but "that's something that will take some time."
Meanwhile, treaty negotiators are under pressure to have a document ready for signing at a summit of the 35-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, scheduled for November in Paris. "We're getting to the point where we have to start wrapping this up if we're going to be done by November," the source said, noting that another stumbling block is that the Soviet Union is still pressing for more aircraft than the United States wants to permit. Bush and Gorbachev had a brief discussion of the problem in Helsinki on Sunday, and the two foreign ministers are expected to discuss it later this week. It was not clear who was advancing the idea of eliminating troop limits from the treaty. But senior U.S. officials continued today to give a cold shoulder to the suggestion by a top Soviet negotiator last weekend that the United States be limited to 70,000 to 80,000 troops. "I'm not aware of any such proposal outstanding," an administration official said.
Another source familiar with the talks said, "Remember, we never wanted manpower in the agreement in the first place. That was our initial position. The original Western proposal was for tanks, artillery and armored personnel carriers because they're militarily significant and you could verify them. Manpower was considered to be an awfully loose handle on the threat and difficult to verify."
Correspondent Michael Dobbs in Moscow and staff writer Al Kamen in Washington contributed to this article.