Secretary of State James A. Baker III, in his quest for a new U.N. resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, failed to win the support of Yemen, the only Arab nation presently on the U.N. Security Council, during a five-hour visit here Thursday.
"We knew it was going to be a very tough nut," a senior U.S. official said later. "But Secretary Baker is not at all disappointed or discouraged by the visit. They (the Yemenis) did not say no."
Besides putting the best face on the rebuff, the official was reflecting the hope that Yemen, rather than voting against the projected resolution, might abstain when it is introduced, probably late next week. Yemen has abstained on half of the 10 U.N. resolutions condemning Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh reiterated his opposition both to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and to the presence of any foreign forces in the Persian Gulf, contending that the U.S.-led coalition lined up against Iraq "complicates the problem rather than solves it." He has called for an Arab solution to the crisis.
When specifically asked after his meeting with Baker how he would vote on a use-of-force measure, Yemen's foreign minister, Abdul-Karim Iryani, interjected that "there is no resolution (introduced yet), so we can't vote on it." President Saleh nodded assent.
Baker, while he has not formally proposed a text, has put forward several alternative approaches during his intensive lobbying effort of the last two weeks. The Baker concept is a two-phased resolution in which Iraq would be given a deadline for withdrawal, after which the 25-nation coalition with forces in the region could mount a military offensive to eject the Iraqi invaders.
The United States wants to push for a use-of-force resolution this month while it holds the Security Council's presidency. The rotating presidency goes to Yemen next month. While Yemen could not block the move in the council, U.S. officials fear that procedural delays might be used to postpone the resolution's adoption.
In a further effort to court Yemen, Baker has taken up with Saudi Arabia its recent expulsion of at least 400,000 Yemenis, the senior official said. The Saudi move was in retaliation for Yemen's failure to support the U.N. resolution and for its criticism of the Saudi government for inviting in U.S. and other foreign forces.
The estimated 2 million Yemenis who work in Saudi oil fields and cities on temporary visas send back home about $2 billion a year, which is the major source of foreign, hard-currency earnings for this dirt-poor nation.
There were unconfirmed reports here Thursday that the Saudis and Yemenis have halted their vituperative propaganda blasts at each other this week, but Yemeni officials deny that any truce is in effect.
Following Baker to Yemen by a few hours Thursday was Iraqi Foreign Minister Tarik Aziz, who is lobbying his country's case before the next move occurs in the United Nations.
By a conservative count, at least seven of the 15 Council members are prepared to vote for a resolution authorizing force if necessary to get Iraq out of Kuwait. Nine "yes" votes--with no vetoes by any of the five permanent members--are necessary to adopt a resolution.
Of the five permanent members, the Soviet Union and China are not yet publicly committed. But Moscow now seems likely to go along.