The Noose Tightens

September 27, 1990

The ritual of United Nations General Assembly speeches by world leaders, accompanying the Security Council embargo on air shipments to Iraq, shows how isolated that country is. Iraq's dictator may find sympathy from the frightened regimes of Jordan and Yemen and a certain ambiguity by Iran. But all hope of dividing the world and playing off superpowers is lost. All countries but a few condemn the destruction of Kuwait.

Yet they do it in different tones, some offering different ways out. Secretary of State James A. Baker III says that Iraq must vacate Kuwait. Period. Linked to nothing. President Francois Mitterrand of France said something else. He said that if Iraq would "declare its determination to withdraw from Kuwait and free the hostages. . . all things might be possible." This could lead to settlement of other Middle Eastern questions, such as the Palestinian issue with Israel and Lebanese domestic strife. He said France would side with any country that is a victim of aggression, which presumably warned Iraq not to attack Israel.

If the French president was showing himself more flexible than the United States, Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze showed the Soviet Union if anything tougher. "We should remind those who regard aggression as an acceptable form of behavior rTC that the United Nations has the power to suppress acts of aggression," he said in a clear hint of military action. He also suggested that a withdrawal from Kuwait would allow the world to focus on other conflicts.

Neither leader was making direct linkage of Kuwait to the West Bank and Gaza. Each said, rather, that one thing could lead to another, which might save face for Saddam Hussein if he saw it that way. How Iraq reacted is interesting. The Iraqi News Agency called the Soviet foreign minister's speech "hostile," and suggested the Soviet Union had been bribed by the United States. But it quoted a government spokesman as calling the French president's speech "non-aggressive . . . and an attempt to find solutions to regional problems."

In its search for sympathy, Iraq has ignored no possibility. Of course it will try to divide the forces arrayed against it. The dictator may well be looking for a way out.

No country -- not France, not the Soviet Union and not the United States -- should offer a separate deal behind the backs of the others in the cause against Iraqi aggression. Let Saddam Hussein save face if he can, but Iraq must vacate Kuwait. His hinted reaction to the French president's speech should be explored by all.

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