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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Launches Gulf Peace Initiative

President Boris Yeltsin launched a diplomatic initiative in the Persian Gulf on Tuesday as the top U.S. general reported the first signs that Iraqi troops may be "moving from their combat positions" near the Kuwaiti border.

Yeltsin sent two high-level Foreign Ministry officials to Iraq and Kuwait to try to defuse the situation after Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev told reporters that Moscow had warned Iraq, which has amassed as many as 80,000 troops near the Kuwaiti border, against taking any aggressive action.

However Kozyrev cautioned that "it makes no sense to try and corner Iraq," and added, "I hope there will be no overreaction."

General John Shalikashvili, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters: "The latest information we have now indicates that there is fairly broad movement in most of those (Iraqi) units that had been brought down south."

Iraq announced Monday that it was withdrawing its troops from the border with Kuwait, across which Iraqi forces stormed in 1990 beginning a seven-month occupation. It claimed Tuesday that the withdrawal had been completed.

President Bill Clinton said he was "hopeful" about the pullback. However he said it was too early to reach a final conclusion.

Shalikashvili reinforced the sentiment, saying: "We do not have any indication as to where the units are preparing to move. And so we are continuing to watch the situation very carefully and at the same time we are continuing with the (U.S. military) deployments."

He added: "I'm not at all prepared to say the crisis is over in any way."

Shalikashvili said the United States had 155,000 ground troops on alert for possible deployment to the Gulf, to back up nearly 40,000 already there or en route to confront Iraq.

Earlier in the day, a rapid buildup of U.S. aircraft had been announced. Shalikashvili said there were 252 American and allied aircraft in the region, 467 American planes in various stages of deployment and an additional 196 on alert.

A U.S. official at the UN said Washington was also consulting with Security Council members about establishing an exclusion zone to prevent Baghdad from conducting provocative maneuvers in the future.

Britain, Washington's main ally during the Gulf War, offered support to the U.S. deployment. Six British fighter-bombers flew to Kuwait from their base in Germany and some 150 marine commandos set out from their barracks in Scotland. The commandos are an advance party of a battalion which will bring the British deployment to a total of some 1,000 ground troops and air-force personnel, the British Defense Ministry said. Britain also sent a destroyer, HMS Cardiff, to join a Royal Navy frigate, HMS Cornwall, already patrolling off Kuwait City.

According to a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Yeltsin's delegation to Iraq included First Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Viktor Posuvalyuk, the head of the ministry's Middle East department.

Earlier, Iraq had said it would ask military attaches from the Russian and Chinese embassies to monitor the withdrawal, according to the official Iraqi news agency, INA.

The two Russian delegates were due to present a plan aimed "not only at averting a new round of tension but also at transforming the current situation and even easing sanctions," the Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

The United Nations imposed trade sanctions on Iraq in the wake of its invasion of Kuwait, and many analysts have seen Baghdad's latest moves as brinkmanship to pressure the UN into easing the crippling embargo.

Russia joined the Western coalition in opposing the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, but it did not commit soldiers to the Gulf and has since argued that sanctions should be softened. Russia and France have in fact been working behind the scenes to promote such an outcome, but the Unites States and Britain have resisted any such move.

Russia's interest in an end to the embargo, specifically to the bar on sales of Iraqi oil, stems in part from the fact that this would open prospects for Russia of retrieving an $8 billion debt Baghdad owes the former Soviet Union.

Iraqi Oil Minister Safa Hadi Jawad al-Habubi arrived in Moscow on Monday to discuss joint projects with Russian oil companies.

"We oppose any new military action by Iraq against Kuwait," Kozyrev said. "But we also do not conceal our interest in the gradual lifting of sanctions on Baghdad, which would open prospects for economic cooperation and a multibillion-dollar debt repayment." (Reuters, AP)