The Arab man on the closed-circuit television at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland last night was a distant, but close reminder of the tension between the U.S. and Iraq.
Dr. Al Mohamed Sadiq Al-Mashat, Iraqi Ambassador to the U.S., speaking on a large television screen via satellite to the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs, said he would have preferred to have been in person, "but as you know, I was barred."
The U.S. State Department restricted him to an area within 25 miles of the Iraqi Embassy in Washington, D.C. "It has to do with restrictions placed on U.S. diplomats in Iraq," said Adam Shub, press officer for the State Department, in a telephone interview.
Despite the distance, the ambassador delivered his message, entitled: "Iraq's View of the Middle East and Persian Gulf," to the capacity crowd in LeClerc Hall.
In his message, he called for peace and stressed "the necessity for avoiding a catastrophe, avoiding a war.
"There is no reason whatsoever for embarking on such a conflict that nobody can predict its result," Al-Mashat said.
The 59-year-old ambassador was scheduled four weeks ago to speak, said Dr. Frank A. Burd, the foreign affairs council's president. The group was told Monday he couldn't come.
"It's better to have him in this form, than not at all," Burd said in a telephone interview. He said the group almost canceled.
During his hourlong presentation, the ambassador defended Iraq, and denied human rights violations, including use of chemical warfare. "It's a claim fabricated against Iraq with no proof, no single victim," he said.
He tried to explain that "they [Kuwaitis] began something that was very fishy." He said, Kuwait tried to encroach on their border and "destroy" his country's economy by stealing their oil.
He said Iraq asked Kuwait for restitution for "the stolen oil."
He later said that Iraq wants access to the Persian Gulf.
Additionally, he criticized the United States' "slap on the wrist" response to Israel's "slaughter of unarmed [Palestinian] citizens." He blamed the influence of Zionism and imperialism for much of the Middle East conflict.