BEIJING — IRAQ's deputy prime minister completed an unannounced mission to Beijing yesterday that Western diplomats say is part of the effort by Iraq to avert a potentially devastating ground attack against its troops in Kuwait. Saadoun Hammadi outlined to China's Premier Li Peng the conditions under which Iraq said last week it would withdraw from Kuwait, according to the official New China News Agency. The United Nations coalition has insisted on an unconditional withdrawal.
``It's clear the Iraqis are trying to buy time; to postpone a UN ground offensive to liberate Kuwait and undermine the unanimity of countries arrayed against them,'' said a Western diplomat on condition of anonymity. ``Baghdad knows China could help at least blunt UN actions against it.''
By virtue of its veto power on the five-member UN Security Council, Beijing enjoys an influence over the Gulf conflict that far outweighs its economic and military power, say diplomats and other analysts.
In his 80-minute meeting with Mr. Hammadi, Mr. Li urged Iraq to ``take immediate and concrete measures and actions'' to quit Kuwait, the news agency said. The two countries declined to provide further details of the talk.
While calling on Iraq to pull out of Kuwait, China has satisfied Baghdad by opposing a military solution to the Gulf crisis. Beijing abstained in November on the UN resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq.
Hammadi's surprise mission played up to the anxieties and aims of Beijing, diplomats say.
Beijing is eager to bolster its role in the Gulf for fear that, with the Soviet Union preoccupied with internal unrest, the United States will emerge from the war as the predominant world power, say diplomats and analysts.