Secretary of State James A. Baker III plans to visit Moscow next week for meetings with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze on the Persian Gulf crisis as part of Baker's effort to build cohesion in the global coalition against Iraq, the State Department announced yesterday.
Administration officials said that while the Soviet leadership remains committed to the U.N. resolutions calling for Iraq to unconditionally retreat from Kuwait, recent statements by senior Soviet officials, including Gorbachev, have raised some concern in the Bush administration about the Soviet position on the crisis.
In particular, officials said they wanted clarification of comments by Gorbachev in Paris recently calling for a new Arab peace initiative to resolve the crisis.
Gorbachev had said "the best thing is to deal with this man" through some kind of "Arab mechanism" because there are "now more arguments than ever in favor of solving the situation by using the Arab factor."
Similarly, Gorbachev's envoy, Yevgeny Primakov, suggested that there were reasons for optimism following his recent meeting with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, but U.S. officials said their reports are that Primakov made no progress in the talks.
The United States has stood firm against any kind of compromise short of complete withdrawal, and the Bush administration has warned against any kind of Arab settlement that would fall short of meeting that objective.
One administration official said Baker wants to ask the Soviet leadership about statements that are "not exactly consistent" with the thrust of the U.N. resolutions. At the same time, the official said, Baker wants to discuss with the Soviets "where we go from here" in the confrontation with Saddam. Gorbachev has insisted that there should be a peaceful solution to the crisis and sought to avoid an armed conflict.
State Department spokesman Margaret Tutwiler also announced yesterday that Baker would meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen when they are both in Cairo next week.
As one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, China's cooperation has been critical to the effort to apply additional pressure on Saddam by the world community.
Chinese officials said they intend to continue supporting the anti-Iraq coalition but, like the Soviet Union, would take a strongly negative view of any military action.
China has been seeking improved ties and economic cooperation from the West, which has motivated it to support the anti-Iraq coalition, officials have noted.
Baker is also expected to visit Bahrain; see the exiled government of Kuwait in Taif, Saudi Arabia; meet with King Fahd in Jiddah; see Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo, and after Moscow, visit British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in London and French officials in Paris.