Europe shares U.S. skepticism over peace plan


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 region must be taken into account, but his boss, 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, who must choose clearly and without delay the evacuation of Kuwait or the continuation of war."

Unlike the last-minute maneuvering Jan. 14 by the European Community, United Nations and France to avert war, nobody appears eager these days to offer Mr. Hussein a graceful way to avoid ground fighting.

"Perhaps [French President] Francois Mitterrand is starting to think [Mr. Hussein] is not trustworthy, that the most important thing is to get rid of him," said Sami Cohen of the Center for the Study of International Relations.

"Nobody's interested in seeing him [Mr. Hussein] drag this promise of withdrawal out for months," confirmed one French Foreign Ministry source.

In part, the lukewarm response to Mr. Gorbachev's efforts also 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, as U.S. officials shuttled to

European capitals gathering support for the coalition, they presumed that winning an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait probably would so discredit Mr. Hussein that he would be unseated.

In their view, meeting the stated agenda would satisfy the silent agenda as well.

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.

Though Mr. Mitterrand is said to be convinced that Mr. Hussein would be better gone, it would be inconceivable for France to continue fighting in the face of an Iraqi offer of immediate withdrawal.

Other allied leaders would face the same problem.

An Egyptian journalist said that the 50,000 Egyptian troops, counted in the front lines of a ground offensive, could not go into battle if Iraq had begun a withdrawal from Kuwait.

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