Some allies won't attack, Cheney says Iraqi minister says fate of talks is up to U.S.

December 24, 1990|By Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Ratcheting up the contest of brinkmanship in the Persian Gulf, Iraq's foreign minister said yesterday that it was up to the Bush administration to renew deadlocked efforts to open peace talks and that Iraq would not yield to pressure to change the date it has proposed for a round of negotiations in Baghdad.

In an interview, Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz accused the United States of arrogance in its dealings with Iraq. He said there had been no contact between his government and the Bush administration since the cancellation of his proposed Dec. 17 visit to Washington.

Mr. Aziz's visit was called off by Washington in the dispute over a date for a return round of talks in Baghdad between Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Iraq set Jan. 12 for that session, but Washington rejected any date later than Jan. 3, arguing that Jan. 12 was too near the U.N. Security Council's Jan. 15 deadline for Iraq to pull out of Kuwait or face the possibility of war.

"This doesn't indicate good faith or good intentions," Mr. Aziz said. "Neither of the two capitals has approached the other about anything. We are taking the position of wait and see. If there is an offer [on the issue of dates], we would look at it."

Mr. Aziz said he had hoped that the European Community would break ranks with the United States and open talks on its own with Iraqbut that he was disappointed that the Europeans followed the Bush administration's lead despite having expressed some sympathy toward Iraq's demand that wider Middle East problems be linked to a solution of the Persian Gulf crisis.

"In this particular crisis [on the issue of talks] . . . they took the same line, the same American line," he said of the 12-member EC. "So, we were not happy with the European position."

Mr. Aziz's depiction of a barren diplomatic landscape coincides with stepped-up Iraqi preparations for war at the front in Kuwait and among the civilians at home.

Last night, half of Baghdad was blacked out for 15 minutes during an air raid drill. Sirens sounded, and power was cut off. Recent military call-ups and televised civil defense instructions apparently were designed in part to indicate Iraq's willingness to go to war rather than give up Kuwait, which it invaded Aug. 2.

Mr. Aziz contributed his own defiant signals with an outline of disadvantages he thinks the United States would face if it unleashed its military forces against Iraq.

He said the U.S. Army would be fighting on hostile territory and that reinforcements and supplies would have to be delivered over a great distance. Arab allies of the United States would be unreliable partners in a pitched battle, he said.

In a prolonged war, Mr. Aziz said, U.S. public opinion will turn against the Bush administration and Americans will be unwilling to sacrifice to restore the Kuwaiti royal family.

"Each American who will be killed in this region, his mother and his father are going to ask why, and Mr. Bush has to provide an answer," Mr. Aziz said.

The Iraqi diplomat said he suspected that the Bush administration had proposed the talks only as a prelude to war. Iraq differs with the United States not only on the dates for the talks but on the proposed agenda, he said.

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