Geneva's Message to Congress

January 10, 1991

Failure of the Baker-Aziz talks in Geneva makes it imperative that Congress pass a resolution backing up the United Nations mandate that "all necessary means" should be used, if necessary, to force Iraq out of Kuwait. Strong legislative action may, in fact, be one of the few means left for convincing Saddam Hussein to make accommodations in the interest of peace.

That Secretary of State James Baker and Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz refused to budge from pre-set positions yesterday should have been surprising only to the naive. Iraqi pride could not permit a yielding in such public circumstances to American demands, despite the anti-Israel smoke-screen that Mr. Aziz endeavored to place over the whole affair.

There still is time for diplomacy to work through the intercession of U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar and others -- provided the Washington establishment does not falter. Mr. Hussein is, above all, a survivor. On many issues in the past he has switched positions -- despite pungent rhetoric suggesting otherwise -- when cornered by his own aggressive tendencies.

Congress must proceed with delicacy when it initiates debate today on resolutions requiring it to take a stand on the Iraqi question. As Mr. Aziz told reporters in Geneva, his government has a "duty" to watch (often over CNN and C-Span) every development in American policy. The dilemma for Congress is to protect its constitutional war powers against presidential encroachment without sending a message to Baghdad that may be designed to insure peace and yet have the opposite effect. This perhaps can be accomplished by combining the Security Council's approval for the use of force with provisions requiring President Bush to certify to Congress that all other means have failed before opting for war.

Mr. Aziz's refusal to accept a letter from Mr. Bush to Mr. Hussein may have been personally satisfying to the Iraqi foreign minister. But this gesture, plus what Mr. Bush called Mr. Aziz' "total stiff arm" toward demands that Iraq end its brutal conquest of Kuwait, could strengthen the hand of those on Capitol Hill who want to rally around the president.

The predictable sticking point in Geneva was the Iraqi attempt to equate its seizure of Kuwait with the Israeli occupation of Arab lands. Mr. Baker just as predictably rebuffed such "linkage" while reiterating a U.S. willingness to deal with broader Middle East questions in other circumstances.

If there was any surprise in Geneva, it was the lack of a surprise on the Iraqi side. This, however, does not preclude last-minute attempts by Baghdad to make a deal averting war. The Baker-Aziz meeting took place at Six Days and Counting. The balloon goes up, however, only at Zero Hour -- or at some time after that.

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