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Gorbachev Urges Delay in Ground War, Spokesman Says

February 23, 1991

MOSCOW (AP) _ President Mikhail S. Gorbachev appealed to President Bush on Saturday to delay an allied ground offensive against Iraq for one or two days, a Soviet government spokesman said.

Gorbachev also spoke with leaders of the allied coalition and others and pursued a settlement in the Gulf War despite the expiration of a U.S.-set deadline for Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait, spokesman Vitaly Ignatenko said.

″I think the attitude of Iraq toward the ultimatum will be changing,″ Ignatenko said. He added there were ″hints″ that the differences between the U.S. conditions and a Soviet peace plan ″were not so great.″

Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh called Secretary of State James A. Baker III at Camp David to discuss the latest developments, a senior Bush administration official said.

″The secretary told him we appreciate the Soviet efforts, but the Iraqis hadn’t come as far as they needed″ and therefore the military action would continue, the official quoted Baker as saying.

Asked whether Bessmertnykh had asked the United States to hold off on a ground attack to allow diplomacy more time, the official answered, ″not to my knowledge.″

In New York, Yuli Vorontsov, the Soviet ambassador to the United Nations, reported to the U.N. Security Council that Iraq ″had found favorable elements in the American proposal.″

It was unclear just what elements Iraq accepted. Officials in Washington said his comment reflected something Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz said in a telephone call to Gorbachev on Saturday.

Before he left Moscow for Baghdad, Aziz told reporters his government accepted the Soviet peace plan and would begin withdrawing one day after a cease-fire and complete withdrawal in 21 days.

President Bush demanded Iraq begin pulling out by Saturday and complete the withdrawal in seven days.

Vorontsov is ″trying to get clarifications″ from Moscow on Iraq’s latest position on the American proposal, one Washington official said.

In a news conference late Saturday, Ignatenko said he did not know any details about Vorontsov’s statement.

But he added: ″There have been hints to the effect that the differences are not so great between the two proposals.″

He added that Gorbachev had once again recommended postponing the land offensive to give negotiators time for ″integrating the two plans,″ but now would ″share responsibility″ for the war with the U.S.-led allied coalition.

Ignatenko said Gorbachev had advised Aziz ″to weigh everything, and think over what this last stage of the war could bring,″ but when the deadline for the U.S. ultimatum passed, said negotiations were over.

″We will not have any more contacts with the Iraqi side,″ Ignatenko said.

The patriach of the Soviet army, Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, told The Associated Press on Saturday that he expects the United States to win the war, but only after a terrible battle.

″I’m confident that Iraq has preserved its morale, and the battle will be really fierce,″ Akhromeyev said in an interview at a pro-army rally.

″The United States has overwhelming superiority over Iraq, there is no doubt that Iraq will be crushed. The question is, what will be the price?″

Ignatenko said Gorbachev had worked closely with Bush and other coalition leaders to try to find a peaceful solution. He discussed all developments on the plan in a 90-minute telephone conversation with Bush Friday night, Ignatenko said.

″President Gorbachev expressed deep understanding that the American people have put on themselves a heavy burden of implementing the will of the international community,″ Ignatenko said.

He said Gorbachev also spoke by telephone on Saturday with British Prime Minister John Major, French President Francois Mitterrand, Italian Premier Giulio Andreotti, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Syrian President Hafiz Assad and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

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