U.N. Chief Plays Down Talks Today : Peace effort: Perez de Cuellar arrives in Jordan and tries to dampen hopes of a breakthrough with Iraq. In Cairo, the Arab League meets, but prospects appear dim.


U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar arrived in Jordan on Thursday to meet with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tarik Aziz in an effort to settle the Persian Gulf crisis.

At the same time, Arab League foreign ministers gathered in Cairo looking for ways to pressure Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. However, pro-Iraq governments boycotted the meeting, and the prospects for achieving a peaceful solution to the crisis there appeared dim.

Perez de Cuellar tried to dampen expectations of a breakthrough in his talks today with Aziz. He told reporters he will not stray from the U.N. Security Council resolutions that call for Iraq to withdraw its troops from Kuwait, restore the exiled government and release its foreign hostages.

“The word negotiation is not needed,” he said, “because United Nations resolutions are not my resolutions. As far as I am concerned, I cannot make concessions on what does not belong to me.”


Perez de Cuellar said the situation in the Persian Gulf region is “explosive” and that he hopes Iraq “is prepared to discuss the ways and means to lessen the problem.”

He deflected suggestions that President Bush and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had undermined his mission by saying that there is nothing to negotiate and that the demand for Iraq’s withdrawal is unconditional.

“They are entitled to their views,” he said, adding that Bush gave him “support and encouragement” in a recent telephone conversation.

Expectations that the 70-year-old Perez de Cuellar might have come as a negotiator rather than as an enforcer stemmed from his success in arranging a cease-fire agreement between Iraq and Iran, putting an end to their 1980-88 war.


“If anyone from the outside has credibility in Baghdad, it is Perez (de Cuellar),” one Western European diplomat said.

Perez de Cuellar himself has hinted that he might try to get the negotiating process under way.

“As I am rather old and have been the secretary general for nine years, I know the moment in which the secretary general has to jump therein,” he said in New York before departing. “Now that the Security Council has adopted five resolutions, it is time for diplomacy to make an effort.”

Diplomats and Jordanian observers believe that Perez de Cuellar’s visit will have the immediate effect of reducing tension in the region.


“It should give everyone some breathing room,” said Kamel abu Jaber, a Jordanian political scientist.

Western diplomats speculated that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is playing for time, believing that anything that puts off military action by the United States and its allies plays into his hands.

“It is not in (Hussein’s) interest to start a war,” one said. “Maybe he thinks that time hurts the allied effort.”

Hussein may be gambling that Arab popular opinion will force countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia to back away from their alliance with the United States. Economic sanctions, while damaging to Iraq, may also wreak havoc with Western economies. Diplomats in Jordan believe that Iraq has stockpiled enough food to withstand a blockade for at least two months.


The situation appears to have crystallized in the last few days around three positions.

The first, embraced by Washington and London, is that the demands on Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait and restore the former government are unconditional and not subject to negotiation. This line rests on the principle that the invasion of one country by another is unacceptable regardless of historical grievances. Any appearance of appeasing Hussein, it is felt, would be dangerous in the long run because it would encourage expansionism.

In this view, Perez de Cuellar’s mission should be limited to persuading Hussein to adhere to the letter of the U.N. resolutions.

There is much skepticism in Jordan that the worldwide outcry against the Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait or the economic sanctions against Iraq will persuade Hussein to withdraw.


“I would be doubtful if, on this round, the secretary general found that the Iraqis were willing to comply with the resolutions,” British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd told an interviewer in London.

Some diplomats in Amman, inspecting public statements from the West, professed to see one soft spot in the otherwise solid wall of constancy: Is the deposed Sabah family of Kuwait the only candidate to lead a legitimate government in Kuwait in the wake of an Iraqi withdrawal?

“The sheiks do not exactly have a savory reputation in the West, what with all their wives and prodigal spending,” one Western diplomat declared.

Moreover, short of war, the effort to win an unconditional withdrawal depends on the effectiveness of the trade and arms embargo, which has shown a few rough spots. Third World countries, a handful of which have thousands of citizens trapped in Iraq, also could cave in and forswear the embargo.


The second position, Iraq’s, is that the Kuwait question be considered in context with other Middle East issues: Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the occupation by Israel and Syria of parts of Lebanon. This formula is viewed in Washington as an effort to distract attention from the invasion of Kuwait.

Iraq’s allies, notably Jordan, have been putting forth variations of this formula as the basis for talks.

According to Jordanian officials, Iraq also seeks satisfaction on a list of complaints against Kuwait. It opposes Kuwait’s policy of keeping oil prices moderate in order to increase Western demand. Iraq favors higher prices through a strictly enforced reduction of supplies.

Western diplomats in Amman are skeptical that Iraq, which has annexed Kuwait and is printing maps showing it as the 19th province, will settle for merely a resumption of talks over issues that were pending before its troops invaded Kuwait.


The third position involves what has been called anti-diplomacy. Embraced mainly by Israel, it holds that restoring the status quo is not enough; Iraq’s Hussein and his military machine must be destroyed.

Israeli officials complain that the West coddled Hussein and allowed him to develop into a dangerous regional force with a massive army and chemical weapons. With his invasion of Kuwait, they say, he has shown his aggressive hand, and it would be less painful to stop him now than to let him pull back with his arsenal and expansionist designs intact.

Underlying this approach is a reluctance to permit Hussein to play any influential role in the gulf region or in the Middle East as a whole. Israel is especially nervous about Iraq’s weaponry because it has threatened to use poison gas against Israel if it is attacked. Observers in Israel expect that, in time, Iraq will be able to develop nuclear weapons with technology acquired in the international market.

But some Arab countries may also balk at punishing Iraq.


“Saddam is an impulsive dictator who has squandered his country’s wealth, led it into war (with Iran) and invaded Kuwait,” one Arab diplomat in Jordan said. “Arab countries working with America want to show that he cannot act like this, but they may not want to go further.”

In the end, diplomatic observers said, it may come down to whether the United States and its allies are willing to accept Iraq as a regional force, however bellicose, or whether the solution lies not just in restoring Kuwait but in eliminating Hussein and crippling his country for many years to come.

Only 13 of the 21 members of the Arab League attended the Cairo meeting, underscoring a deepening split within the Arab world over the Iraq invasion.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel Meguid lamented the split but insisted nonetheless that Iraq must withdraw its troops from Kuwait.


“To resort to force or threaten the use of it to settle differences and disputes between nations is the road to destruction and annihilation,” Meguid said. “The withdrawal of Iraqi forces could provide an opportunity for a new start that will safeguard joint Arab efforts.”

The foreign ministers formed a committee to draft a resolution on the crisis and agreed to meet again tonight. They are expected to issue a new condemnation of Iraq.

The meeting was called so that Secretary General Chedli Klibi could present a progress report on the league’s Aug. 10 decision to send troops to defend Saudi Arabia against any Iraqi attack. Egypt, Syria and Morocco have sent troops to stand alongside the U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia.

Iraq and it allies--Algeria, Tunisia, Sudan, Yemen, Mauritania, Jordan and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)--were not represented at the meeting. Libya, which opposed the league’s Aug. 10 condemnation of Iraq, sent a representative and is a member of the six-nation committee drafting a resolution. The others on the committee are Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia.


Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shareh told reporters that the committee would “look at the initiatives taken by some Arab countries.”

He apparently was referring to the peace mission undertaken by Jordan’s King Hussein and a proposal put forth by PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat that calls for the simultaneous withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait and foreign troops from the Persian Gulf region, with a U.N. force taking their place. This proposal has been ignored by the West.

Williams reported from Amman, Jordan, and Miller reported from Cairo.