AMMAN, Jordan — Iraq launched a diplomatic offensive Thursday in an effort to punch its way out of international isolation, sending a senior official to Jordan to confer with Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu and announcing plans for similar meetings with European officials.
Taha Yassin Ramadan, Iraqi first deputy prime minister, conceded after meeting with Kaifu that their talks had done little to bring Iraq closer to Japan, which has pledged contributions of $4 billion to the multinational effort to dislodge Iraq from Kuwait and to ease the economic hardships brought down on some Middle East nations by the crisis. Japan has also sent medical teams to the Persian Gulf.
Elsewhere on the diplomatic front, Yevgeny Primakov, a senior aide to Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, arrived in Baghdad with a message from his chief. Its contents were not made public, but Primakov was quoted by the Soviet news agency Tass as saying that the crisis must be resolved diplomatically in order to "avoid a military explosion."
Primakov went to Baghdad from Amman, where he began his Middle East mission Wednesday by meeting with Jordanian officials and Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The United States, meanwhile, pulled the aircraft carrier Independence out of the Persian Gulf, where it had arrived two days earlier. A Navy spokesman in Washington said the Independence had completed its mission.
The Pentagon reported that the U.S. Navy boarded and diverted a Sudanese freighter Thursday in the Red Sea after discovering that its cargo manifest did not match its load of unspecified "industrial equipment."
The Sudanese ship, a 400-foot cargo carrier called the Blue Nile, was headed toward the Jordanian port of Aqaba when it was stopped and boarded by a team from the American guided-missile frigate Samuel B. Roberts.
An inspection of the ship's cargo revealed the discrepancy between the goods and the documentation, and the ship was ordered to change course.
The Blue Nile was the seventh ship diverted by U.S. warships since the naval embargo of Iraq began in mid-August. A total of 170 ships have been boarded and inspected by officers from allied navies in the Persian Gulf region, 139 of them by U.S. personnel.
Baghdad's Ramadan, who is believed to rank second only to President Saddam Hussein in the Iraqi leadership, insisted at a news conference here that the fact that the Kaifu meeting had taken place proves that Iraq is committed to finding a peaceful solution to the crisis it created by invading Kuwait on Aug. 2.
It was a rare public appearance for Ramadan, who was accompanied by two dozen security men in business suits. He used the news conference to make one of the clearest statements yet on Iraq's position in the crisis.
He linked Iraq's occupation of Kuwait directly with Israel's occupation of the territories it seized in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. Also, he said Iraq will withdraw the 430,000 troops it has in Kuwait if Israel agrees to withdraw from its occupied territories, including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Iraq, he emphasized, will not withdraw unilaterally from Kuwait.
Echoing what Hussein said in a speech Sunday, Ramadan rejected the idea of an "Arab solution" to the crisis, as proposed by Jordan's King Hussein, among others. He said that anything short of an agreement that also resolves the Palestinian question would be "an aid to American terrorism."
Ramadan reiterated the argument that Iraq holds thousands of foreigners against their will, some of them some aged and infirm, only as a deterrent to war.
"This situation has occurred to give peace a chance," he said.
Speaking in soft tones and puffing on a thin cigar, Ramadan reverted to familiar Iraqi rhetoric when he spoke of the United States. He said Iraq will retaliate swiftly against Israel if the United States strikes first.
"We'll make this entire region a cemetery for all aggressors," he said. "We have decided not to fire the first bullet--but if America starts it, they will not be able to determine the end of the battle, the size of the battlefield, or even where the battle will take place . . . including Israel. The age of American terrorism, in which they had time to rule over Arab leaders and rob their resources, is over."
Clearly, though, Ramadan intended to convey a message of peace, to present the Hussein regime as reasonable and committed to resolving the situation without resorting to force.
He also made it clear that Hussein intends to use diplomacy and the rhetoric of peace as tools to probe for soft spots in the embargo that has closed Iraq's ports. He assailed what he called the brutality of the embargo.