Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, in a final emotional appeal, called Tuesday for Iraq to withdraw its troops from Kuwait and promised that the international coalition arrayed against Saddam Hussein would not attack if a pullout began.
The secretary general made his plea “to turn the course of events away from catastrophe” after a French peace plan put forth in the Security Council collapsed and just six hours before the U.N. deadline for Iraq to pull out of Kuwait expired.
As diplomats wrangled in the council’s consultation room, a member of a Western delegation expressed worry that the United States and Iraq were just talking past each other in the final hours of the crisis.
“It’s a dialogue of the deaf,” he said.
Nevertheless, Perez de Cuellar, an ardent advocate of peace, hoped Baghdad was listening.
“I urge President Saddam Hussein to commence, without delay, the total withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait,” the secretary general said.
“Once this process is well under way, I wish to assure him, on the basis of understandings that I have received from governments of the highest level, that neither Iraq nor its forces will be attacked by those arrayed in the international coalition against his country.”
Earlier Tuesday, the secretary general delivered a private report to the council on his talks with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad on Sunday. He said he met for 2 1/2 hours with the Iraqi leader.
Hussein charged that he was being “tried in absentia” by the Security Council and added that Iraq’s people--who regard Kuwait as their 19th province--"would not even whisper the word withdrawal as war was looming.”
The secretary general said, however, that Hussein told him that he was prepared for “an in-depth dialogue.”
“The president stated that his government was prepared to discuss a package deal, because in such an arrangement each party knew exactly what it would have to give and what it would receive,” Perez de Cuellar said in his confidential report on the meeting.
The secretary general said Hussein told him Iraq’s people “were willing to sacrifice for the cause of peace” if others were willing to do the same.
And Perez de Cuellar told the council confidentially that on two separate occasions during the meeting, Hussein called on him to use his good offices to find a solution to the gulf crisis and that if other parties agreed, Iraq would cooperate as well.
During his speech later Tuesday, Perez de Cuellar pledged that with the agreement of the Security Council, he would immediately be prepared to deploy U.N. observers to Kuwait to certify the withdrawal. He said he would urge the council to review its decisions imposing sanctions against Iraq and would encourage a phaseout of foreign forces in the area.
“I have every assurance, once again from the highest levels of government, that with the resolution of the present crisis, every effort will be made to address, in a comprehensive manner, the Arab-Israeli conflict, including the Palestinian question,” Perez de Cuellar said. “I pledge my every effort to this end.”
The silver-haired, 70-year-old secretary general delivered his speech in a basement conference room at the United Nations two hours after a six-point French peace plan failed to gain approval from the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union in the council. In turn, France withheld its needed support from a statement prepared by the Soviet Union and Britain--with U.S. backing--urging Iraq to demonstrate “wisdom and responsibility” by withdrawing from Kuwait.
Some diplomats said they believe that Baghdad would scoff at another ultimatum. As they spoke, thousands of demonstrators shouted and prayed for peace outside the U.N. building.
Perez de Cuellar’s speech was softer in tone than the proposed British-Soviet statement and was designed to leave the Iraqi strongman some space to maneuver.
Sources said that if Hussein responded favorably to Perez de Cuellar’s appeal, the secretary general was prepared to return quickly to Iraq to recommence talks that, only two days earlier, failed. These sources said he believes that some room may still exist for post-deadline diplomacy.
But others who also spoke with Iraq’s strongman over the weekend in the secretary general’s traveling party showed deep worry, saying they considered Hussein intransigent, someone who believes himself to be “a man of destiny.”
Perez de Cuellar closed his plea with a personal appeal to Hussein.
“In the tenth and final year of my tenure as secretary general of the United Nations, no cause would give me greater satisfaction than to set the Middle East as a whole on the road to just and lasting peace,” he said.
“And no disappointment would be greater and more tragic than to find the nations of the world engaging in a conflict that none of their peoples want.”
Britain’s U.N. ambassador, David Hannay, speaking with reporters outside the council’s chambers, said that members wanted to send a “straightforward” appeal for peace to Baghdad without weakening the 12 Security Council resolutions against Iraq.
“For the appeal to be rapid and effective, it needs to be clear and unambiguous,” Hannay said. “Hopefully, one would have a positive response from Iraq.”
The Soviet U.N. ambassador, Yuli Vorontsov, said his government also supports such an appeal. But the British-Soviet initiative ran into objections from France and from some nonaligned nations who argued that it was just another ultimatum.
The draft statement called upon Iraq’s president to “display wisdom and responsibility and to make the only necessary step, which is to withdraw unconditionally from Kuwait.”
After the secretary general’s last-minute appeal, the council adjourned until today.