President Bush today, seeking “to go the extra mile for peace,” today invited Iraq to send its foreign minister to Washington for peace talks on the Persian Gulf crisis and offered to send Secretary of State James A. Baker III to Baghdad.
Bush made his dramatic offer a day after the U.N. Security Council authorized a multinational force arrayed in Saudi Arabia and the gulf to use force to end Iraq’s four-month occupation of Kuwait unless Baghdad withdraws by Jan. 15.
“To go the extra mile for peace, I will issue an invitation to Foreign Minister Tarik Aziz to come to Washington at a mutually convenient time during the latter part of the week of Dec. 10 to meet with me,” Bush said in a nationally televised statement on the gulf crisis.
“In addition, I’m asking Secretary Jim Baker to go to Baghdad to meet (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein” sometime between Dec. 15 and Jan. 15, Bush said.
Shortly after the President’s remarks, the Iraqi Embassy said it had no reaction from Baghdad to the surprise diplomatic move. However, Iraq’s ambassador to France, Abdul Razzack Hashimi, told BBC radio in London: “This is a very important step, really, toward peace, and we hope it is going to achieve what we are all striving for, negotiations instead of beating the drums of war. . . . I consider it very good news.”
But he added, “We are not accepting preconditions (on) negotiations. Let’s wait and see, and let’s be optimistic, and see what Mr. Baker has in mind.”
Bush, asked at a news conference following his speech if he had had any diplomatic signals from Iraq that prompted his invitation, replied: “No. The only thing I’ve heard is that they want to talk. Here’s an opportunity.”
Hussein has said the United States ought to be more open to negotiations to end the crisis.
Despite the hopeful peace overtures, Bush also made clear he is keeping open the option to liberate Kuwait by force and said that, if he took that course, the resulting war would not be “another Vietnam.”
“Should military action be required, this will not be another Vietnam,” he said. “This will not be a protracted, drawn-out war.”
He said, however, he hopes the latest U.N. resolution will put enough pressure on Hussein to persuade him to withdraw peacefully.
Yet he later seemed to hedge that hope, saying, “I’m not hopeful we’re going to get a lot (out) of this. We’re just going the extra mile.”
Bush added: “We want to make the case to him directly for complying with the U.N. resolution” to withdraw from Kuwait.
He noted he had previously rejected negotiations with Iraq on any basis short of complete, prior acceptance of U.N. demands to end the occupation and restore Kuwait’s government, and added that he had made a personal decision to soften that stance with his offer to open peace talks.
Bush was asked about the potential toll of human lives in a gulf war.
He sighed and said he knew many people wondered, “How many lives is it worth? . . . I will do my level best to bring those kids home without one single shot being fired in anger.”