MOSCOW, DEC. 5 -- The Soviet Union today welcomed Iraq's announcement that it will allow all 3,300 Soviet workers in the country to leave and expressed its willingness to discuss an Iraqi demand that compensation be paid for broken labor contracts.
"If there are going to be costs, we are prepared to bear those costs because we feel that the security and well-being of our citizens should come first," Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Vitaly Churkin said.
In Baghdad, a Soviet diplomat said an IL-86 wide-body jetliner, which can carry as many as 400 passengers, was expected to arrive Thursday to pick up the first of the homeward-bound Soviets, most of whom were employed in Iraq's oil industry.
By tonight, more than 200 exit visas had been approved by Iraq's Interior Ministry for the departing Soviets, the diplomat said.
The decision reportedly made by Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council to allow the Soviet exodus was explained Tuesday by a government spokesman in Baghdad as an attempt to stop the Soviet Union from making "deals" to secure the safety of its nationals.
The Kremlin, along with the United States, voted last week in the U.N. Security Council to authorize the use of military force if Iraq does not withdraw from Kuwait, and Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze warned that the Kremlin would send troops to the region if Soviet citizens in Iraq were threatened.
Unlike the Americans, Western Europeans and Japanese detained in Iraq, about 600 of whom have been positioned as "human shields" at strategic locations, Soviet nationals have not been held as hostages. But like other foreigners, they had been barred from leaving.