JERUSALEM, JAN. 30 -- Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and other Israeli leaders today sharply criticized a U.S.-Soviet proposal to Iraq to end the Persian Gulf War. They said Israel would oppose any solution to the conflict that left Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in power, and they made clear that they also resented not being consulted about the joint statement in advance.
One senior official here said, however, that Israel has little doubt the peace overture will be rejected by Baghdad. "I think the Americans did it to please the Soviet Union, which made some concessions on the Baltic states, and it will have no practical effect whatsoever," said the official, who asked not to be named.
Elsewhere, Egypt welcomed the U.S.-Soviet statement as a step toward ending hostilities in the region, as did France, but a British official described it as largely "a restatement of where we are already."
The joint statement, issued Tuesday at the end of a visit to Washington by Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh, told Iraq that hostilities could end if it made "an unequivocal commitment" to pull out of Kuwait and took "immediate, concrete steps" leading to compliance with the U.N. Security Council resolutions. It also called for a "comprehensive settlement" of issues in the Middle East without specifically mentioning an international peace conference, which the Soviets have sought and Israel has opposed.
Shamir, when asked Israel's reaction to the statement, told reporters, "I would say we see a defect here. A political act that involved us, our fate, our future, was taken without consulting with us, without even telling us beforehand."
Avi Pazner, a senior adviser to Shamir, said the prime minister's complaint was directed specifically at the lack of consultation over the policy statement rather than its content. "It's a matter of principle for the future," he said, "because we are a major player in this region and we have to be consulted about any peace process in which we are supposed to play a part."
At the same time, Pazner said that Israel believes the war must not end before Saddam's regime is destroyed. "I think not only Shamir feels this way, but all Israelis," he said. "This is a very dangerous man, and without him being removed I don't think peace is possible in this part of the world."
The statement was echoed by Eliahu Ben Elissar, chairman of the parliament's foreign affairs committee and member of Shamir's Likud Party, in a press conference. "If Saddam Hussein is allowed to withdraw from Kuwait, and everything else is forgotten, he will be considered by the Arab masses and by many Moslems elsewhere as a victor," he said. "He will be perceived as someone who was able to land missiles on Tel Aviv and get away with it."
There was much concern in Shamir's government before the war that Israel's exclusion from the U.S.-led coalition against Iraq and strained ties with the Bush administration would cause Washington to settle the gulf conflict "at Israel's expense," by agreeing to an international conference or other action to solve the Palestinian issue.
After Iraq began attacking Israel with Scud missiles two weeks ago, Shamir agreed to delay Israeli retaliation and coordinate military action with the United States largely as a way of improving ties with Washington and positioning Israel to reap political gains from the war. It was for that reason, officials said, that Shamir was irritated when Washington again hinted at future action on the Israeli-Arab conflict without consulting with Israel.
In Cairo, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Boutros Ghali told reporters that the Egyptian government enthusiastically endorsed the U.S.-Soviet statement and said it "reflects the world community stance -- seeking a settlement to the crisis on the basis of the U.N. resolutions, including Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait and restoration of the legitimate government there."
Ghali added that "Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait will constitute a proper ground to start solving the Palestinian question."
British officials said they were not perturbed by the joint statement, which a senior Downing Street official called "a restatement of where we are already." He said the British believed the statement was designed as a face-saving measure for Bessmertnykh so that he would not seem to be leaving the Washington talks empty-handed.
As for the idea of ceasing hostilities to allow Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, the British official pointed out that the statement also calls for "full compliance" with all U.N. resolutions, including one calling on Iraq "to restore international peace and security in the area." To meet that requirement, he suggested, Iraq would have to surrender some of its arms as well as withdraw from Kuwait.
In Paris, a Foreign Ministry source said that the French government's position is that it strongly welcomes the U.S.-Soviet statement and fully supports the concept of making rapid progress toward a general settlement of Middle East conflicts quickly after the gulf crisis is over. For the past seven years, President Francois Mitterrand has emphasized the need for an international Middle East peace conference to resolve all key issues, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Washington Post correspondents Glenn Frankel in London and William Drozdiak in Paris and special correspondent John Arundel in Cairo contributed to this article.