WASHINGTON -- Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze ruled out a Soviet military role in confronting Iraq yesterday and expressed hope for a peaceful solution in top-level meetings between the United States and Iraq.
His comments at a Houston news conference with Secretary of State James A. Baker III contrasted with a generally more pessimistic view expressed recently by U.S. officials, who have said they see no sign of Iraqi willingness to withdraw from Kuwait.
They came as the Bush administration reported that an evacuation flight from Baghdad yesterday had carried out just about all remaining Americans who wanted to leave Iraq or Kuwait, leaving only U.S. diplomats to be airlifted from Kuwait -- probably tomorrow.
The Soviets have never shown enthusiasm for threatening Iraq militarily and have insisted they would not send troops to the Persian Gulf except under United Nations auspices. But even as they backed a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing force after Jan. 15, public opinion in their country appears to have hardened against a Soviet military role in the crisis.
The Tass news agency reported yesterday that the parliament in the Russian republic had told national leaders not to let the country get caught in a military confrontation in the Persian Gulf.
"I can tell you that this option is not under consideration and that this option is non-existent," Mr. Shevardnadze said in Houston, according to Reuters.
"We pin much hope on the coming contacts between Secretary Baker and President Bush and the Iraqi leadership," he said. "There is still a potential for a peaceful solution" to the conflict.
Meanwhile, describing the evacuation of remaining U.S. hostages from Kuwait and Iraq, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, "Based on the evidence of today's flight, we believe that all Americans who wish to depart will have done so." No Americans boarded an evacuation plane sent to Kuwait, he said.
"However, we plan one more flight on Thursday to make doubly " sure that that is the case, and we expect that that will be our last U.S.-chartered evacuation flight."
The White House said that tomorrow's flight was likely "to also be the one to evacuate U.S. Embassy personnel from Kuwait."
About 1,600 Westerners and Japanese have flown out since Iraqi President Saddam Hussein announced last Thursday that the "guests" were free to go.
In all yesterday, three aircraft carrying about 490 foreigners, mainly Britons and Japanese, left Baghdad for London; Bangkok, Thailand; and Frankfurt, Germany.
The 155 Japanese flying to Bangkok were the last group of Japanese who wanted to leave, the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo said.
Britain's Foreign Office said that after yesterday's flights, about 300 Britons remained in Iraq and Kuwait. A spokesman could not say how many might still want to leave.
Spokesman Marlin Fitzwater was asked whether the U.S. flag would stop flying at the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait, where Ambassador Nathaniel Howell and his small remaining staff have kept it aloft as a gesture of defiance.
"From a practical matter, we won't have anyone there to raise the flag," he replied. "So, that'll just play itself out."
Mr. Boucher said that as many as 310 Americans had chosen to stay in Kuwait and 200 others in Iraq.
"In some cases, Arab-American children have departed the gulf with their non-American family members," he said. "In other cases . . . families have chosen to stay together."
Of the 88 reported American "human shields," 83 have been evacuated, three more are due to depart later this week, one wants to return to Kuwait and another turned out not to have been held, he said.
With the United States threatening to go to war with Iraq if it fails to withdraw from Kuwait by the Security Council's Jan. 15 deadline, the State Department dwelt in exhaustive detail on the steps it has taken to ensure that all Americans were given the opportunity to be evacuated.
"Our effort to assist Americans in the area relies on meticulous pursuit of even the most tenuous of clues," Mr. Boucher said. "We want to be sure that we're going though every means possible."
He said the Kuwait embassy, which has been keeping in touch with Americans the past four months by phone and through a warden system, "made a final canvass of remaining Americans this week to close the slightest possibility that any American was unwillingly left behind."
"Yesterday [Monday] the Voice of America took the additional step of airing the names of four Americans whose relatives thought they might have been in Iraq or Kuwait, although we had never heard from them," he said. "So far, none of the four have responded."