Iraqi leader, in a conciliatory tone, repackages demands for talks

October 01, 1990|By Robert Ruby | Robert Ruby,Sun Staff Correspondent

AMMAN, Jordan -- Iraqi President Saddam Hussein said yesterday that he would welcome negotiations to resolve the Persian Gulf crisis if they were linked to the settlement of other Middle East issues and if the United States and other foreign forces withdrew from the region.

After a week of escalating threats, Mr. Hussein managed to sound conciliatory in an address read in his name on Iraqi television merely by repackaging demands he made earlier. He offered no concessions other than a hint that Iraq's leadership was indeed worried that its occupation of Kuwait would ignite a regional war.

Mr. Hussein said Iraq would not bargain over "aims and principles" but welcomed offers of talks. "If dialogue replaces threats, and the policy of peace replaces that of military buildups, we will not dispute where the starting point should be," he said.

U.S. defense officials say that more than 350,000 Iraqi troops are deployed in Kuwait and are facing the largest Western military buildup since World War II. Roughly 160,000 U.S. soldiers are in Saudi Arabia or on ships in the Persian Gulf. They are backed by smaller forces from more than a dozen other countries.

In his latest message, Mr. Hussein seemed intent on exploiting the first public differences between the United States and its allies, apparently in hopes of dividing the forces against him. He praised the initiative that was offered last week by French President Francois Mitterrand but received coolly by the Bush administration.

In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Mr. Mitterrand appeared reluctant to support a demand made earlier by Washington for a complete withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait as a condition for any peace talks.

Mr. Mitterrand said that France might instead be satisfied by Iraq's simply promising to withdraw. He also endorsed the principle of linking talks about Iraq's claims to Kuwait to holding talks sometime in the future about Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Mr. Hussein said that he was encouraged by Mr. Mitterrand's proposals and that Iraq was seeking more details from the French government. "We see the French president's address as different in its language from others," he said.

But based on Mr. Hussein's remarks, Iraq's own demands remain unchanged. They include the withdrawal of foreign troops, an end to U.N. economic sanctions and the conditioning of talks about Kuwait on the start of talks about the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Israeli and Syrian interests in Lebanon. The Bush administration rejected those conditions when Mr. Hussein first proposed them on Aug. 12.

Mr. Hussein's message was given to mark the birthday of the prophet Mohammed. The message was part of Baghdad's effort to recast the Iraqi leader as a devout Moslem after more than decade as head of a determinedly secular government. While an announcer read Mr. Hussein's remarks, Mr. Hussein was pictured with his hands held out in prayer.

King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, said he still held hopes that Iraq would agree to talks, according to an account the official Saudi news service released yesterday of remarks the king made Saturday to military graduates.

The king said that Mr. Hussein, by agreeing last month to peace terms set by Iran after eight years of fighting, showed that a peaceful resolution was possible.

"It is not difficult for President Saddam Hussein to overcome the barriers, just as he did in respect of Iran," King Fahd said. "I hope he will do so."

While many diplomats and analysts were convinced that Iraq accepted Iran's terms in order to get its help in breaking the economic blockade, Iran's foreign minister said yesterday that his country would observe the embargo.

In a television interview at the United Nations, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati said that Iran was observing U.N. sanctions and thus was not conducting trade with Baghdad and would not market Iraqi oil.

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