Differences over the U.S. military tactics in the Persian Gulf surfaced Saturday as Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander A. Bessmertnykh opened talks with the Bush administration that could determine the course of superpower relations.
After a two-hour meeting with Secretary of State James Baker, the new Soviet foreign minister said the allied campaign against Iraq was a source of concern to his government even though it agreed with the United States on the goal of liberating Kuwait."There may be a danger of the conflict going more in the direction of the destruction of Iraq and in the direction of involving more casualties on both sides," Bessmertnykh said.
He added pointedly, "We've got to think about it . . . and try to avoid it."
Baker, standing at the foreign minister's side in the marbled lobby of the State Department, countered that the goal of the 31-nation coalition was not to destroy Iraq.
Otherwise, Baker avoided any conflict over allied strategy. In fact, he said there was agreement with the Soviets that the measures taken to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation "fall within the scope" of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Bessmertnykh stressed, meanwhile, that "we are doing the best we can, all of us." He added, "We are all in the same alliance, and there is no difference in the basic approach between the United States and the Soviet Union."
The talks, which will continue Monday between Baker and Bessmertnykh in advance of a meeting between the Soviet leader and President Bush, were clouded by tough measures the Soviets have taken against independence movements in Lithuania and Latvia.
Bush is considering whether to postpone the summit meeting he had agreed to attend in Moscow Feb. 11-13 with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
Baker and Bessmertnykh said they had discussed the situation in the Baltic republics. But they provided no details. And Baker said he would not say anything about the summit until after another round of talks and Bessmertnykh meets with Bush at the White House on Monday.
Meanwhile, the session Saturday failed to wrap up a new treaty to cut U.S. and Soviet long-range nuclear missiles, bombers and submarines.
Even after five days of negotiations at the State Department among lower level officials, Baker said, "I think it's the view of both of us that the strategic arms treaty needs further work."
Bush and Gorbachev hoped to sign the pact at the summit. It would cut their arsenals of the world's deadliest weapons by about 30 percent.
The unfinished treaty will be taken up again on Monday, Baker said, along with a treaty signed in November to cut non-nuclear weapons in Europe.