THE United Nations Security Council, which authorized the use of force to expel Iraq from Kuwait, is to hear a report today on Moscow's efforts to secure a firm Iraqi commitment to a rapid pullout. It may be Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's last opportunity to avert a ground war that some analysts say could lead to his capture and trial as a war criminal. If Iraq agrees to withdraw, there will still be a price to comply with 12 Security Council resolutions aimed at rolling back the Iraqi invasion. But those resolutions are not as harsh as terms might become if coalition forces eventually enter Iraq.
Soviet efforts to mediate the dispute are viewed as part of the Security Council's efforts, and not as a competing effort. ``The Soviet Union, they're operating on the basis of Security Council resolutions and as members of the Council,'' said Sir David Hannay, Britain's ambassador to the UN.
Both the Soviet Union and Iran, two countries to which Iraq has turned for help, have so far firmly backed the Council's demand for an immediate and unconditional Iraqi withdrawal. But at the same time, both Iran and the Soviets have expressed concern about the bombing of Iraq.
``The United States and its allies have yet to convince the people in our region, both in terms of assurances and also in deeds, that domination and control of the political, economic, and social life of the region is not among the objectives they pursue,'' Kamal Kharrazi, Iran's ambassador to the UN, told the Council Friday.
A group of five North African Arab countries (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Mauritania) had asked for a Council meeting to discuss the the air campaign that began Jan. 17. But the group is boycotting the hearings that began Thursday, because the sessions are closed. US and British diplomats convinced most members it would be wrong to give Saddam the impression there was division in the Council.
At this point, Security Council members say they are looking for an improved Iraqi offer following Friday's promise to ``deal with'' the UN mandated pullout. That Iraqi offer proposed a cease-fire.
Iraqi Ambassador Abdul Amir al-Anbari was challenged in the Council Saturday to explain why the offer did not mention Kuwait by name. But according to diplomats who were present, Mr. Al-Anbari replied that UN Resolution 660 refers to Kuwait, and that Iraq accepts the resolution.
The text of the resolution demands Iraqi withdrawal ``to the positions in which they were located in Aug. 1, 1990.'' This phrasing would appear to allow Iraq to retain at least interim control of Warbah and Bubiyan Islands. Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Jabir al-Ahmad al-Jabir Al Sabah said last fall that the territory had been loaned to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, but was not returned when the war ended. This dispute, and other differences between Iraq and Kuwait, are to be negotiated after an Iraqi withdrawal, Resolution 660 states.
Diplomats report that Saturday's Council meeting was far more lively and interesting than a usual debate. Part of the drama was because Iraq was brought back into Security Council deliberations for the first time since the invasion of Kuwait.
Diplomats also said they found the Iraqi delegation far less aggressive than they might have been in a public session. One diplomat noted that Al-Anbari spoke without a prepared speech.
Al-Anbari gave assurances to the British delegation that Iraq was abiding be Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war. He said the International Red Cross would not be denied access to POWs. The Iraqi ambassador also asked the British his own set of questions:
Was Britain, in its high-altitude bombing, abiding by the Geneva Conventions that protect civilians in time of war?
Why had Britain blocked shipments of medicine to Iraq?
Had Britain taken any precautions when they attacked chemical plants in Iraq?
The British ambassador promised answers today.
The Iraqi representative then asked the Soviet delegation if it stood by the joint Soviet-American statement issued prior to President Bush's Jan. 29 State of the Union address. That statement, widely considered a US gaffe, appeared to establish linkage between an Iraqi pullout and the Palestinian question - something the US has consistently resisted. US spokesmen have since disclaimed that the joint statement had that intent.
To the Iraqi question, Soviet Ambassador Yuli Vorontsov quickly replied, ``Yes,'' but fired back a demand to know when the Soviets would get an answer on the timing of an Iraqi withdrawal. Al-Anbari replied that the answer would be delivered in Moscow.