As Iraqi troops rolled into Kuwait, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze and U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III were in Irkutsk, enjoying a soft Siberian summer and a fishing holiday while they wrapped up yet another session in their continuing efforts to negotiate an end to the Cold War.
Downtown, on the streets of Irkutsk, the mood was not so relaxed. The city's 630,000 inhabitants, like those elsewhere in the Soviet Union, were desperate. Earlier that week, riot police had been called to disperse a crowd of about 1,000 shoppers shoving to get into a store that had managed to come up with a shipment of imported men's boots. Across Uritsky Street, Siberian consumers participated in a kind of lottery in hopes of winning prized items such as razors, cigarettes and toothpaste.
Baker and Shevardnadze were nearing the end of their talks when Lt. Gen. Howard Graves, a representative of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who was in the secretary of state's delegation, informed Baker of the Iraqi invasion. Baker immediately told Shevardnadze. The Soviet foreign minister was stunned. The previous day, he had told the Americans he was convinced that Saddam Hussein would not invade Kuwait. "This is what 40 years of our policies in the Middle East have come to," Shevardnadze later would tell an aide.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday December 18, 1990 Home Edition Part A Page 3 Column 6 Metro Desk 2 inches; 51 words Type of Material: Correction
Beijing meeting--Because of an editing error, The Times reported incorrectly on Nov. 25, in a special section entitled The Line in the Sand, that Assistant Secretary of State Richard H. Solomon discussed the gulf crisis in Beijing last August with Chinese Premier Li Peng. In fact, Solomon met with Deputy Foreign Minister Tian Zengpei and not with the premier.
It was too early to know exactly what was happening. Baker left the Soviet Union for Mongolia, while Shevardnadze flew back to Moscow. Aboard Shevardnadze's Aeroflot jet were two of Baker's top aides -- Dennis Ross, director of policy planning, and State Department counselor Robert Zoellick. They had intended to sit down with Soviet officials at a dacha outside Moscow to work out the agenda their two governments should confront in the coming year.
But as their plane soared across the Urals, talk turned quickly to the Iraqi invasion. Ross' Soviet counterpart, Sergei Tarasenko, bitingly disparaged the brutality of Saddam Hussein, a longtime Soviet ally. Ross and Tarasenko began talking about the possibility of a joint U.S.-Soviet statement condemning the invasion and embargoing arms sales to Iraq. In Moscow, Ross rushed to the American Embassy and called Baker in Mongolia. The Soviets might agree to a joint statement on Iraq, Ross said, if Baker would fly to Moscow and deliver it alongside Shevardnadze.
Baker liked the idea. A joint statement would show the world that a new era had arrived, one in which the two superpowers had a new relationship. Such a statement would make it difficult for the other major nations of the world to lag behind in condemning Iraq. And it would put the lie to any claim by Saddam Hussein that he had international support for his invasion.
Still, ever-cautious, Baker instructed Ross: "Make sure the statement is a good one."
The idea for a quiet weekend at a dacha was abandoned. Tarasenko invited Ross to an office in an annex of the Soviet Foreign Ministry compound. He told Ross they should get the latest news from Iraq. The American visitor thought his Soviet colleague was about to pick up the phone and call some Mideast specialist in the Soviet Foreign Ministry, or perhaps the KGB. Instead, Tarasenko moved over to an office television and turned on CNN.
Tarasenko phoned Shevardnadze and got tentative approval for a joint U.S.-Soviet statement on the invasion. Ross' aide, Andrew Carpendale, was assigned to begin work on the drafting. All the typewriters in the Soviet Foreign Ministry offices had the Cyrillic alphabet; finally, after a frantic search, Soviet officials located an electric typewriter with the Latin alphabet, and Carpendale went to work.
His draft included an explicit Soviet-U.S. condemnation of Iraq and a demand that Hussein pull his troops out of Kuwait. But on Aug. 3, as Baker and his party were already flying from Mongolia to Moscow, this draft came under attack. Traditionalists in the Soviet Foreign Ministry thought that the statement was too strong. The Soviet Union had not aligned itself with the United States in the Mideast for decades. Wasn't this going too far?
The haggling and uncertainty among Soviet officials continued until just before Baker landed. In the end, Tarasenko, Shevardnadze and, ultimately, Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev won out. On Friday night, Aug. 3, soon after Baker's Boeing 707 touched down at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport, the Soviet foreign minister and the U.S. secretary of state appeared before television cameras to read the prepared statement.
The two superpowers made clear that their efforts would extend beyond the mere rhetoric of condemnation. "The United States and the Soviet Union believe the international community must not only condemn this action," the two superpowers said, "but also take practical steps in response to it."