Baker rules out delaying Jan. 15 deadline for Iraq

January 08, 1991|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,London Bureau of The Sun

LONDON -- Secretary of State James A. Baker III rejected yesterday a reported Iraqi move to have the Jan. 15 United Nations deadline for its withdrawal from Kuwait extended.

"We are not interested in that, frankly," said Mr. Baker, accusing the Iraqi leader of seeking to "manipulate" the U.N. deadline.

He also dismissed the latest threat from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to "liberate" Jerusalem and unleash a wave of "freedom fighters" around the world, saying, "He's been saying these things before."

Mr. Baker was in London at the start of a final diplomatic effort to solidify allied support for military action against Iraq if it ignores next Tuesday's deadline.

Officials reported that, after the initial round of talks with British, Spanish, European Community and NATO leaders, the anti-Iraq coalition was "firmly together."

Mr. Baker was to fly to Paris and Bonn today to meet the French, German and Italian foreign ministers.

From Baghdad yesterday, Mr. Hussein was said to be pressing the French to seek a new Security Council meeting to put back the U.N.-appointed hour of reckoning.

Mr. Baker, who is to meet tomorrow in Geneva with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, said, "We need to hear less talk from Baghdad and we need to see some action [on withdrawal]. This is what the world community has been demanding since August."

He said the only real chance for peace was if Mr. Hussein was made to understand that the "deadline is real and that we are serious."

He added: "We should not be talking about postponing deadlines. . . . We have been making the point over and over that this deadline is real."

British Prime Minister John Major, on a tour of the gulf, made the same point yesterday: "There is no question whatsoever of altering that deadline, none whatsoever.

"We have known for some time that he [Mr. Hussein] might play games of this kind. But it is not something that we are prepared to contemplate."

Officials accompanying Mr. Baker refused to discuss their contacts with the French government in advance of his arrival in Paris for talks with Foreign Minister Roland Dumas. The session will focus on the "private" trip to Baghdad last week of Michel Vauzelle, a confidant of President Francois Mitterrand's, who met Mr. Hussein and said afterward he detected Iraqi flexibility.

The U.S. officials acknowledged the reports out of Baghdad that Mr. Hussein was pressing, through the French, for an extension of the U.N. deadline but said they suspected another Iraqi delaying tactic.

British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd also rejected delay, saying, "I do not know anybody in the international community who thinks we should somehow walk backward from 12 U.N. Security Council resolutions."

He added: "We have our ears cocked for a message from Baghdad, but that is not the message. The message that the world is waiting for from Baghdad is not one of delay but of compliance.

"The question of war or peace is exclusively within Iraqi control."

Mr. Baker maintained the pressure on the Iraqi leader, too, saying, "The choice is his. We hope that he makes the right choice."

Officials accompanying Mr. Baker sought to discourage moves to convene another U.N. Security Council meeting before any military action. The issue was discussed between Mr. Baker and Mr. Hurd. Said one official afterward: "The secretary felt it better to deal on a bilateral basis."

Asked if there was a possibility that after Iraqi withdrawal there could be a "post-crisis" meeting on the Palestinian issue, the official said: "We reject linkage in any form."

The U.S. officials played down potential differences with the European Community over the prospect of a post-withdrawal international Middle East peace conference.

Jacques Poos, Luxembourg foreign minister and president of the EC, said after meeting with Mr. Baker, "Basically we have to convey the same message."

The Europeans had invited Iraq's Mr. Aziz to a meeting in Luxembourg Thursday, the day after his planned confrontation in Geneva with Mr. Baker.

Iraq rejected the invitation, saying European policy was being dictated by the Bush administration.

The Europeans renewed their invitation, and Mr. Poos said yesterday, "I hope he accepts the invitation, that he hears the voice of the European Community."

Asked if Mr. Hussein was getting the allied message, Mr. Poos replied, "It seems that he does not hear it, so it has to be repeated again and again."

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