MOSCOW, DEC. 3 -- One thousand Soviet nationals still in Iraq -- nearly a third of the Soviet contingent there -- will return home within the next three weeks, Soviet television reported today.
"The Iraqi authorities have given permission for 1,000 Soviet experts to leave, and in the coming two or three weeks we plan to send them to Moscow," said Alexander Kirichenko, Baghdad representative for state airline Aeroflot.
The Soviet Union complained last week that Iraq was blocking the return of the 3,300 Soviet nationals four months after Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait. Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze said last week that the Kremlin would send troops to the region if its citizens were harmed, prompting Iraq to say Moscow was seeking a pretext for such action.
Shevardnadze told the official Tass news agency Friday that Moscow would encourage Arab efforts to resolve the Persian Gulf crisis following the adoption of last Thursday's U.N. Security Council resolution setting a Jan. 15 deadline for an Iraqi withdrawal.
A Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman today welcomed a U.S. initiative to hold talks with Iraq and said it was up to Baghdad to make the next move. Vitaly Churkin said the Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force to expel Iraqi troops from Kuwait is a step forward in the quest for a peaceful solution.
"The Soviet Union is convinced the ball is now in Iraq's court. It depends only on the Iraqi government whether or not there will be peace in the Persian Gulf," said Churkin.
An influential group of hard-line Soviet lawmakers called on President Mikhail Gorbachev to address the legislature on the gulf crisis. It called for a special session to be held Jan. 5-10.
"We are categorically against the use of force in the gulf. . . . Under no circumstances should a Soviet military contingent be sent there," Army Col. Nikolai Petrushenko, a leading member of the conservative Soyuz, or Union, group, told reporters.
Petrushenko urged the Soviet Union to adopt the same stance at the United Nations as China, which abstained in the Security Council vote authorizing the use of force against Iraq. Soyuz issued a statement demanding that Shevardnadze explain his comments about sending troops to the gulf.
In Baghdad today, Iraq said that more than 1,400 children under age 5 have died because of a medicine shortage caused by a U.N. trade embargo. Health Minister Abdul Salam Mohammed Saeed, quoted by Baghdad radio, said a lack of powdered milk contributed to the deterioration of the children's health. He was not more specific about the period of time in which the deaths occurred.