TOKYO -- Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone publicly broke ranks with Washington over the Persian Gulf crisis yesterday, urging President Bush to meet with Iraq's President Saddam Hussein.
"A direct dialogue is important," before relations between Baghdad and Washington break down completely and give way to war, Mr. Nakasone said he told U.S. Ambassador Michael H. Armacost during an afternoon meeting.
It was advice President Bush could hardly welcome from a man who had just returned home after three rounds of talks with the Iraqi leader in Baghdad.
Washington has insisted that any talks with Mr. Hussein must await withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
Mr. Nakasone said Mr. Armacost gave the proposal a chilly reception, stressing that Iraq and the United States had ambassadors in each other's capitals if there was anything to discuss.
Mr. Nakasone's visit to the U.S. Embassy capped a week that began with his traveling to Baghdad to meet with Mr. Hussein before making a triumphal return to Tokyo Thursday with 74 Japanese who had been captives of Iraq.
Like the Baghdad trips of several elder statesmen of Europe, most of whom have been similarly rewarded with the release of hostages, Mr. Nakasone's talks with Mr. Hussein have caused tension with Washington from the outset.
As he left for Baghdad last weekend, the State Department cautioned him against being "used" in some part of Mr. Hussein's manipulation of the hostages.
But for Mr. Nakasone, who was so tainted by a massive political money scandal last year that he had to resign from the governing Liberal Democratic Party and sit in the Diet, Japan's parliament, as an independent, the trip has been an irresistible chance to move back to center stage.
Much of his time in the past two days has been spent repeatedly asserting that he made "no deal" with Mr. Hussein to win release of the Japanese captives.
An official Iraqi newspaper said yesterday that Iraq's foreign minister held secret talks with a former French government official, Claude Cheysson, that led to the release of more than 300 French hostages.
The paper, Al-Jumhuriya, said the talks were endorsed by the French government.
Roland Dumas, the foreign minister for France, denied on Thursday that Mr. Cheysson had a mandate from the government to negotiate the release of French hostages.
Some 174 Western hostages flew to freedom yesterday with former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt. Baghdad airport officials said at least 140 of the passengers were Germans. Three Americans also were aboard.