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Soviets find little hope in peace talks

A Soviet envoy to Iraq appears to have failed in his effort to find a peaceful way out of the Persian Gulf crisis, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze said Sunday night from Paris. "For the moment, there are not many reasons for optimism" coming from Yevgeny Primakov's talks with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Shevardnadze said during his visit to Paris with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

Shevardnadze did not elaborate, but said he was still hopeful for a peaceful resolution of the crisis that began when Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2.

Soviet diplomats Saturday postponed a U.N. Security Council resolution because they said its harsh condemnation of Iraq could tie Primakov's hands as he entered the talks Sunday with Hussein. Gorbachev had said Hussein seemed to be softening his stance on Kuwait.

Shevardnadze made his brief comments while attending a signing ceremony for five scientific and economic agreements between French and Soviet officials.

During an visit earlier to Spain, Gorbachev and Shevardnadze suggested there were still ways to achieve a peaceful resolution to the gulf crisis.

"It is necessary to find such a path to a political solution, but it is difficult to know what it is," Shevardnadze said.

Gorbachev and French President Francois Mitterrand met over dinner Sunday and discussed the gulf crisis and next month's conference on European security, a French spokesman said.

The two leaders said the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which opens in Paris on Nov. 19, presents "a unique occasion to bring together all the countries concerned to crown this year of change in Europe," spokesman Hubert Vedrine said.

Iraq fires oil chief, cancels rationing

Iraq fired its oil minister Sunday and canceled a fuel-rationing program, saying it was imposed by mistake, an official report said. The minister was replaced by Saddam Hussein's son-in-law.

It was not immediately clear why the rationing, which began Tuesday, was stopped. The report by the official Iraqi News Agency said the Oil Ministry had miscalculated the amount of chemical additives necessary to refine crude oil into gasoline and other products such as lubricants.

"It was evident that they (chemicals) were enough for double the period estimated by the Oil Ministry," the agency said. It said the ministry of industry "was capable of manufacturing the needed solutions."

The report did not specify the amount of the needed chemicals Iraq had.

A well-placed oil industry source said there indeed was an imminent shortage of the chemicals, which had been imported before Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2.

U.N. trade sanctions apparently have severely curtailed imports of the chemicals, but Iraq may have taken whatever supplies were in Kuwait when it invaded.

The source said Hussein may have fired the official, Issam Chalabi, to blame him for the imminent shortage of chemicals.

The Iraqi agency said "a republican decree" relieved Chalabi of his post. It said another decree appointed Hussein Kamel, minister of industry and military industrialization, as acting oil minister.

Chalabi has been oil minister since 1986. Before that he had a long career as an oil administrator, including a stint as head of Iraq's national oil company.

Kamel is a son-in-law of Hussein. In addition to his ministerial duties, he reportedly runs one of the five secret police organizations through which Hussein keeps a tight rein on Iraq.

The well-informed oil industry source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that for more than a year there have been signs that Kamel has been attempting to expand his authority into oil production.

The source said that despite the cancellation of rationing, recent travelers from Iraq have said that the shortage is "really biting" and that Iraqis are asking why they have such shortages when there is still plenty of crude oil for local consumption despite the international embargo on Iraq.

U.S. Marines board defiant Iraqi tanker

An Iraqi tanker was boarded by U.S. Marines Sunday after two warships fired warning shots across its bow when it refused to stop, U.S. Navy officials said.

For the first time during the sea blockade against Iraq, two warplanes from the carrier USS Independence flew six low-level passes near the ship as part of the interception, Navy Cmdr. J.D. Van Sickle said.

As of Oct. 26, some 2,738 ships had been intercepted in the Persian Gulf region as part of the blockade. There have been 282 ships boarded, included 224 by U.S. forces. Twelve ships have been diverted to other ports.

The ship was allowed to proceed, however, after a search party conducted an inspection and found no goods banned under the U.N. sanctions imposed on Iraq in retaliation for its Aug. 2 conquest of Kuwait.

"No prohibitive cargo was found, and the ship was allowed to proceed. It is now under way," said Van Sickle.

The vessel Amuriyah was intercepted before dawn in the North Arabian Sea off Marirah Island near the coast of Oman.

The ship's master told the Australian guided-missile cruiser HMAS Darwin and the U.S. Navy frigate Reasoner it was headed for Basra, Iraq, but refused to stop and allow a boarding party.

The Darwin fired .50-caliber machine gun rounds across the bow at about 7:15 a.m. local time (1:15 a.m. EST) and the Reasoner fired two rounds from its 5-inch deck guns about 10 minutes later.

"It ignored the warning shots and signaled its intention it was not going to stop," Van Sickle said.

Florida officer

rides in on a camel

An officer in the U.S. army's First Cavalry rode a camel instead of a horse Sunday in a ceremony that brought a touch of the Wild West to the desert of Saudi Arabia.

Under a scorching sun, hundreds of troops in cowboy hats and 19th-century uniforms witnessed a formal change of command in their division, which counts Gen. George Armstrong Custer as a past member.

Saudi dignitaries watched from sand dunes as Col. Harold Burch symbolically handed a cavalry flag to Col. Richard Fousek, his successor as head of the division's support unit.

Burch, of Lake Wales, broke with tradition and rode not on a horse, but a camel led by two bedouin. Fousek told Reuters that a suitable horse could not be found in time.

The First Cavalry is now an armored division facing the army of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. But it began as a group of mounted regiments in the 19th-century Indian wars. Troops Sunday wore traditional blue uniforms with yellow suspenders and black boots as they held up the U.S. and Saudi Arabian flags.

Officers, soldiers and Saudis clapped along with a cavalry band playing Garryowen, a bright Irish tune chosen by Custer as the division's own.

Custer, defeated and killed by the Sioux at Little Big Horn in 1876, led the Seventh Cavalry which later became part of the First.

Changes in command are rare during a deployment but Fousek was scheduled to replace Burch in August. The change was postponed by the move to Saudi Arabia.

Fousek, from Baltimore, Md., said the First Cavalry was coping well with the desert.

"I had reservations about us coming over here but I don't now," he said. "The heat, the sand, the long supply lines (concerned me) but I think we've conquered that."

The First Cavalry began arriving this month as part of the U.S. military buildup after Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2.


Canadian Deputy Defense Minister Robert Fowler arrived in Bahrain Sunday to discuss the Persian Gulf crisis with Bahraini officials and visit Canadian forces in the area.

Egypt's military involvement in the Persian Gulf crisis is proving to be a financial windfall for its government. Its allies are moving to write off $14-billion in debts _ almost a third of a $50-billion obligation to foreign creditors that for years has crippled the Egyptian economy.

_ Information from Associated Press, Reuters and the New York Times was used in this report.