Peace Talks Up to Bush, Iraqi Official Insists
Sharpening the contest of brinkmanship in the Persian Gulf, Iraq’s foreign minister said Sunday that it is up to the Bush Administration to renew deadlocked efforts to open peace talks and that Iraq will not yield to pressure to change its offered date for a round of negotiations in Baghdad.
In an interview with The Times, Foreign Minister Tarik Aziz accused the United States of arrogance in its dealings with Iraq. He said no contact with the Bush Administration has taken place since the cancellation of his proposed Dec. 17 visit to Washington.
Aziz’s visit was called off by Washington in the dispute over a date for a return round of talks in Baghdad between Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Iraq set Jan. 12 for that session, but Washington rejected any date later than Jan. 3--arguing that Jan. 12 is too near the U.N. Security Council’s Jan. 15 deadline for Iraq to pull out of Kuwait or face the possibility of war.
“This doesn’t indicate good faith or good intentions,” the silver-haired diplomat declared. “Neither of the two capitals has approached the other about anything. We are taking the position of wait and see. If there is an offer (on the issue of dates), we would look at it.”
Baker has publicly offered to meet Hussein on any date through Jan. 3.
Aziz had harbored hopes that the European Community would break ranks with Washington and open talks on its own with Iraq.
However, he admitted to being disappointed that the Europeans have been inclined to follow the Bush Administration’s lead, despite having expressed some sympathy toward Iraq’s demand that wider Middle East problems be linked to a solution of the Persian Gulf crisis.
“In this particular crisis (on the issue of talks) . . . they took the same line, the same American line,” he said of the 12-member community. “So, we were not happy with the European position.”
Aziz’s depiction of a barren diplomatic landscape coincides with stepped-up Iraqi preparations for war at the front in Kuwait and among the civilian population at home.
Sunday night, half of Baghdad was blacked out for 15 minutes during an air raid drill. Sirens sounded and power was shut down. Recent military call-ups and televised civil defense instructions appear designed, in part, to indicate Iraq’s willingness to go to war rather than give up Kuwait, which it invaded Aug. 2.
Aziz contributed his own quota of defiant signals with an outline of disadvantages he believes the United States would face if it unleashes its military forces against Iraq.
The American army will be fighting on hostile territory, and if reinforcements and resupply are needed, they would have to be delivered over a great distance, he argued. Arab allies of the United States would be unreliable partners in a pitched battle, he said.
If the war is prolonged, Aziz continued, American public opinion will turn against the Administration. Americans will be unwilling to make great sacrifices in order to restore the Kuwaiti royal family, he contended.
“Each American who will be killed in this region, his mother and his father are going to ask why, and Mr. Bush has to provide an answer,” Aziz said.
Aziz voiced a suspicion that the Bush Administration had proposed the exchange of talks with Iraq only as a prelude to launching a war. He made it clear that Iraq differs with Washington not only on the dates but also on the proposed agenda.
He criticized President Bush for insisting that talks with Iraq are only a vehicle to convey the seriousness of the U.N. deadline.
Iraq wants to take up the issue not only of Kuwait but also the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Bush resists any such linkage. European governments have suggested that the Palestinian issue should be taken up in an international conference only after Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait.
“Why don’t they say (it) the other way around?” Aziz asked, calling for Israel to withdraw from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip first. “This crisis has to resolve all the crises in this region.”
Aziz described his country as the victim of repeated international betrayal, especially during its eight-year war with Iran. He cited the following as examples:
The United States double-crossed Iraq by secretly selling arms to Iran under the Reagan Administration arms-for-hostages scheme; the Soviet Union cut off arms supplies at one point and only renewed them on a cash-and-carry basis; pressure on Iran for implementation of U.N. resolutions to end the bloody war were half-hearted; now, Europe is turning its back on Baghdad, and the Arab world is contributing to Iraq’s destruction.
With a tone of resignation, Aziz said that in one way or another, the current crisis is going to end Iraq’s self-declared role as victim. “If there is going to be a conflict, let it be, because this nation is no longer prepared to be treated as an underdog,” he said.
Aziz maintained that Iraq faces not just opposition to the invasion and annexation of Kuwait but also a conspiracy designed to destroy its military might. The United States is bent on weakening Iraq “to serve the purposes of the Israelis,” he said.
In Aziz’s view, Israel is the source of international pressure on Baghdad. Iraq had expected an attack from Israel as early as April, when Hussein threatened to retaliate with chemical weapons, he added.
“Is there a guarantee that the Israelis are not going to wage another war in a couple of months or a couple of years?” Aziz asked. He accused Israel of planning to expel Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza into Jordan to make room for a massive wave of Jewish immigration from the Soviet Union.