U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III today dashed hopes for peace in the Persian Gulf crisis, saying he failed to persuade Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait in over six hours of talks with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tarik Aziz.
“Regrettably, in over six hours I heard nothing that suggested to me any Iraqi flexibility whatsoever,” Baker told a news conference.
His bleak statement punctured a wave of growing optimism that swept around the world after the talks continued longer than anyone had expected.
Aziz accused the United States of having a double standard in its Middle East policy, giving special treatment to Israel while failing to treat Iraq in a “dignified and just manner.”
The Iraqi foreign minister also said Iraq “absolutely” would attack Israel if war breaks out in the gulf region but would not attack the Jewish state unless Iraq were attacked first.
Baker said that there were still six days left for Iraq to change its mind before a United Nations resolution authorizing war against Baghdad took effect.
“Time for talks is running out. It’s time for Iraq to act,” Baker said.
He said he came to Geneva not to negotiate but to communicate and that “I wanted to leave as little room as possible for yet another tragic miscalculation (by Iraq).”
Baker said Aziz had again proposed that he should go to the United States and that Baker should visit Baghdad to see Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, but he had rejected the proposal.
“The President (George Bush) said there will be no trip to Baghdad,” he said.
Baker said U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar could perhaps launch another peace effort in the few days remaining before the U.N. deadline expires Jan. 15.
But it appeared to be a dim hope. “The clock is ticking on, and I made that point to the minister today,” he said.
Bush has not taken a decision to go to war, he said.
Baker said he was disappointed with the outcome of the talks, saying Aziz had not indicated there was any chance that Iraq would withdraw from the emirate it invaded Aug. 2.
French President Francois Mitterrand is now likely to launch a French effort to avert war, but he told a Paris news conference today that all diplomatic efforts would have to cease after Jan. 15.
“We want it solved peacefully and politically and so we would welcome any diplomatic effort if the message is uniform,” Baker said.
He said Aziz had argued that the invasion of Kuwait was defensive in nature but had replied that he thought no other nation would believe such a claim.
Aziz also tried to bring up the Palestinian problem, arguing that all Middle East conflicts should be tackled simultaneously.
“I made it very clear that there would be no linkage here. . . . We would not agree as a condition of their withdrawing to any subsequent specific steps,” Baker said.
Baker said he had received an assurance from Aziz that the five remaining U.S. diplomats in Baghdad would be allowed to leave.