WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State James A. Baker III said yesterday that Kuwait would be liberated "soon," but Iraq showed no haste in responding to a Soviet peace initiative that the United States has declared inadequate.
Facing a possible imminent ground attack, Iraq announced on Baghdad radio late yesterday that it was dispatching Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz back to Moscow with its response to the Soviet peace plan. It gave no precise indication of when he would go or when he would arrive.
It also did not say whether President Saddam Hussein would accept the proposal. Earlier in the day, Soviet officials had cast doubt on another Moscow meeting, saying that Iraq could respond through the Soviet Embassy in Baghdad.
Iraq's decision to send Mr. Aziz to Moscow with its response sharpened suspicions here that it was playing for time to stall a ground assault, although an administration official said, "We don't have a good insight into what's going on in Baghdad."
[The Washington Post in today's editions reported that Presiden Bush has told Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev that three conditions should be added to the peace proposal: Iraq's withdrawal in four days from the time it agrees to do so; disclosure of all minefields; and release of all prisoners, the Associated Press reported. The four-day deadline was said to have been calculated to force the Iraqi army to leave many of its tanks behind.]
While President Bush, who will decide when to start a ground war, was publicly silent yesterday, the administration signaled that it would not allow Moscow-Baghdad diplomacy to derail the military schedule.
Mr. Baker took the occasion of a luncheon toast to Queen Margrethe II of Denmark to say that now, "one way or another, the Iraqi army of occupation will leave Kuwait. And one way or another, the army of occupation of Iraq will leave Kuwait soon. And so, Kuwait will be liberated -- soon."
Without mentioning the Soviet proposal, he elaborated on Mr. Bush's assertion Tuesday that it fell "well short of what would be required" to end the gulf war.
"The United Nations mandate is crystal-clear," Mr. Baker said. "And there can be no negotiation over its meaning, and there should be no confusion over what must be done."
Anything short of full Iraqi compliance with all the relevant U.N. resolutions would be "unacceptable," he said. "Anything short of that contradicts -- indeed, rejects -- the expressed will of the international community."
Iran's foreign minister said in Paris yesterday that Iraq had one more day to respond to the Soviet peace plan. And French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas said that Iraq had "a very short period" to provide an answer but cautioned against "counting in hours."
While Britain and France joined the United States in responding coolly to the Soviet proposal, Italy appeared to endorse it yesterday.
The Soviets, meanwhile, avoided criticizing the United States for not accepting President Gorbachev's proposal.
"We're not considering his response a negative one," presidential spokesman Vitaly Ignatenko said in Moscow. "It seems to me that the reaction of President Bush is a right one, and we comprehend it perfectly well."
A Western diplomat said that if Iraq accepted the Soviet termsMoscow then would attempt to broker a peace between Baghdad and the U.S.-led coalition.
Diplomats say that the plan fails to address in a concrete way any of the U.N. resolutions except for the one calling for Iraq's unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait.
It also implies that Iraq will suffer no penalty if it withdraws, that sanctions will be dropped and that the Soviets would seek to prevent any interference in internal Iraqi affairs.
Among the basic points it fails to address are Iraq's annexation of Kuwait, the return of diplomatic missions to Kuwait, the treatment of prisoners of war, reparations and war crimes.
And, importantly, it fails to set a firm timetable for Iraqi withdrawal.
An aide to Italian Premier Giulio Andreotti was quoted by wire services as saying that the plan calls for Iraq to begin withdrawing one day after a cease-fire takes effect and pledges that Iraqi troops will not be attacked while withdrawing.