MOSCOW -- President Mikhail S. Gorbachev warned yesterday that the Persian Gulf war is threatening to grow beyond the United Nations' mandate into a catastrophic regional conflict involving chemical and nuclear weapons.
He said he was dispatching a personal envoy to Baghdad to meet Saddam Hussein and appealed again to the Iraqi leader to "display realism" and open the way to a settlement.
The statement, released by the Tass news agency and read on television last night, said "developments in the gulf zone are taking an ever more alarming and dramatic turn."
"The logic of military operations and the character of the military actions are creating a threat of going beyond the mandate defined by the [U.N.] resolutions," Mr. Gorbachev said.
"Judging by some statements on a political level and those made by influential mass media organs, attempts are being made to condition people on both sides of the conflict to the idea of the possibility and permissibility of the use of weapons of mass destruction," he said.
"If this happened, the whole of world politics, the entire world community would be shaken to their foundations," he said.
[The White House, in response, reiterated that the allied goal was the liberation of Kuwait, not the destruction of Iraq.
["Any attacks on Iraq are designed solely to implement the Security Council's resolutions and to minimize coalition casualties that might stem from the liberation of Kuwait," spokesman Bill Harlow said in a statement read to wire services. "The coalition is going to great lengths to avoid collateral damage and any injury to civilians in Iraq."
[The White House said that there was no U.S. objection to Mr. Gorbachev's sending a special representative to meet with Mr. Hussein and that it was pleased that the Soviet leader had repeated his support for the U.N. resolutions and had appealed to Mr. Hussein to settle the conflict.]
Mr. Gorbachev's statement reflected the Kremlin consensus that the conflagration near the southern Soviet border is fraught with economic and political danger for the Soviet Union.
While the Soviet Union has declined to contribute any troops to the anti-Iraq coalition, it has consistently backed U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning the Iraqi annexation of Kuwait and authorizing the use of military force to end the occupation. The Soviet president carefully reiterated that backing yesterday.
But as the conflict threatens to escalate, Mr. Gorbachev and other officials clearly are worried that the Soviet Union may appear to have given its advance endorsement to any action that may be taken by allied forces.
With a Muslim population of 70 million or more and traditional ties in the Arab world, the Soviet Union is interested in keeping its distance and playing the role of peacemaker rather than cheerleader for the U.S.-led alliance.
In addition, Soviet ecologists and military officials have sounded the alarm about the potential harm to Soviet citizens and territory from chemical, bacteriological or nuclear weapons used in the gulf war.
Mr. Gorbachev's statement denounced "provocative attempts to expand the scope of the war, to draw Israel and other countries into it."
He said it would be "extremely dangerous" to give the war "another destructive dimension, an Arab-Israeli one."
From the moment of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait Aug. 2, Moscow has pressured its old ally and arms customer to pull out.
Mr. Gorbachev did not name the envoy he was sending to Baghdad.