MOSCOW, JAN. 30 -- The Kremlin today hailed a joint U.S.-Soviet peace offer to Iraq as a significant shift in Washington's official position on the Persian Gulf War that could pave the way for further superpower cooperation.
Soviet officials and commentators in the state-run media expressed satisfaction at the outcome of talks in Washington between Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh. The meeting ended with a joint statement in which the two sides promised to work together to solve the Arab-Israeli dispute once the fighting in the gulf ends.
In an interview with Soviet television, Bessmertnykh described the document as "important," calling it the first joint U.S.-Soviet statement on Arab-Israeli issues since 1976. Bessmertnykh said he and Baker had tried to "look beyond the boundaries of the war in Kuwait" to consider the broader Middle East crisis.
Soviet commentators are interpreting the joint statement to mean that the U.S. administration has accepted at least indirect linkage between the Persian Gulf hostilities and other Middle East conflicts. This, effectively, has been the Soviet position all along.
"It seems to me that such a statement is yet another shift in the previous U.S. stand, and it makes it easier to achieve lasting peace and stability," said Askold Biryukov, a commentator with the official Soviet news agency Tass. Biryukov added that the Baker-Bessmertnykh talks had "broadened the basis of mutual understanding between Moscow and Washington."
The joint statement's pledge that military operations against Iraq would cease if Baghdad gave unambiguous assurances it would leave Kuwait and began immediately to do so was "particularly gratifying" and "a step forward in the position held by the U.S. administration," Biryukov said.
Before his talks with Baker, Bessmertnykh made clear that Soviet diplomatic support for the allied war effort against Iraq was limited to the U.N.-sponsored operation to liberate Kuwait.
In another development here, Gen. Mikhail Moiseyev, chief of the Soviet general staff, denied reports that Moscow is supplying the United States with secret information about the vast supplies of arms it provided Iraq or about Baghdad's general military potential.
Moiseyev told Tass that reports in the Philadelphia Inquirer and other Western media that the Soviet Union has given the Pentagon wide-ranging intelligence reports on the Iraqi arms and bases are untrue.
To provide the alliance forces with such secret information, Moiseyev said, would be a breach of Moscow's 15-year friendship treaty with Baghdad. Since the fighting in the Persian Gulf began, the Soviet Union has attempted to distance itself from U.S. military and diplomatic policy while continuing to support the effort to liberate Kuwait.
Before Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait Aug. 2, the Kremlin had been Iraq's key arms supplier. Iraq received Soviet armored vehicles, aircraft, missiles and other weapons and ammunition, as well as the aid of Soviet military advisers.
The military newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda reported today that some Soviet electronic equipment is able to pick up the trace of U.S. radar-eluding stealth aircraft but did not say whether Iraq has received such equipment.
"Stealth-type aircraft can cause a lot of trouble for antiaircraft defenses in any country," said Lt. Gen. Grigori Dubrov, but he added that Soviet radar has been successful in detecting such aircraft. He said, however, that such planes have not been observed flying near Soviet borders.
In the past two weeks, the Soviet press has carried numerous commentaries criticizing the U.S. decision to attack Iraq so soon after the Jan. 15 deadline set by the United Nations Security Council for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, President Mikhail Gorbachev's key military adviser, denounced the United States in a press interview, saying that Washington had failed to give economic sanctions sufficient time to work.
Diplomats and Soviet journalists here say that Moscow's attempts to distance itself from U.S. policy represent not only an effort to blunt criticism from hard-liners that the Kremlin has gone too far in the direction of the West, but also to leave open the possibility of reestablishing a working relationship with Iraq and other radical Arab states after the war.
Despite the Soviet criticisms, however, there is little evidence that the Kremlin is seriously rethinking its gulf policy.