West European leaders share U.S. skepticism about Soviets' peace plan WAR IN THE GULF


PARIS -- The failure of West European governments to embrace the Soviet plan for an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait reflects a shared skepticism with Washington over Saddam Hussein's willingness to surrender and reveals the extent to which some of the European states support the unstated aim of seeing him removed from power, analysts and diplomats here said yesterday.

Italy became the first and only European ally to endorse the Soviet proposal yesterday. Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti reportedly told a Cabinet meeting that Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's initiative was "perfectly in line" with United Nations resolutions demanding an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.

German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher praised the Soviet effort and said that Soviet interests in the Persian Gulf must be taken into account, but Chancellor Helmut Kohl held fast in urging an immediate Iraqi withdrawal as the only way to avert further warfare.

Some analysts also have noted that if hostilities were to end now, the U.S.-led forces would not have entered Iraq and would have far less leverage in determining the contours of any postwar settlement.

While details of the proposal have been kept quiet, in line with a request from Mr. Gorbachev, West European leaders have neither rallied to its support nor ruled out an end to hostilities.

Rather than getting tangled in the details of the proposal, West European officials instead demanded a unilateral and unconditional Iraqi agreement to withdraw from Kuwait as the only way to stave off a ground offensive.

French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas said that "now, more than ever, the ultimate decision rests with Saddam Hussein."

In part, the lukewarm response to Mr. Gorbachev's efforts reflects the usefulness of an ambiguity that has allowed the allies to pursue an unstated agenda -- the removal of Mr. Hussein from power -- in tandem with the stated agenda of forcing an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.

In the early months of the Iraqi invasion, U.S. officials presumed that winning an Iraqi withdrawal probably would so discredit Mr. Hussein that he would be unseated.

But now, with the possibility of Iraq's accepting U.N. resolutions, the coalition could face the prospect of abandoning its plan to unseat Mr. Hussein.

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