U.S.-Iraq talks fail to end threat of war Baker says Aziz fails to display any flexibility

January 10, 1991|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Sun Staff Correspondent

GENEVA -- The United States and Iraq failed in 6 1/2 hours of talks yesterday to halt the progress toward war, with Iraq showing no willingness to withdraw from Kuwait.

"Regrettably, ladies and gentlemen, I heard nothing today that . . . suggested to me any Iraqi flexibility whatsoever on complying with the United Nations Security Council resolutions," Secretary of State James A. Baker III told reporters.

"Let us hope that Iraq does not miscalculate again. If it should choose to continue its brutal occupation of Kuwait, Iraq will be choosing a military confrontation which it cannot win and which will have devastating consequences for Iraq."

Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, in his remarks, veered little from Iraq's position since Aug. 12, when it insisted on talking peace only in a regional context that included the plight of Palestinians.

"I told the secretary that if [the United States] is ready to respect and implement international legality on all issues, you will find us very cooperative," Mr. Aziz said.

Both President Bush and Mr. Baker again ruled out linking the Persian Gulf crisis to the Palestinian issue. The secretary said that the Iraqi's comments implied he wanted more than just the principle of linkage, and he said Mr. Aziz had offered no specific proposal.

Mr. Aziz vowed that Iraq would not initiate hostilities, but if war started, it would "absolutely" attack Israel.

The talks came six days before expiration of the Jan. 15 U.N. deadline calling for Iraq's complete and unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait.

Mr. Baker was to leave today for the gulf and other allied countries for last-minute consultations.

During the meeting, Mr. Aziz read slowly and carefully a letter from President Bush to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein warning of the prospect of war, but he refused to accept and deliver it, complaining that its tone was impolite and not in keeping with a message to a head of state.

Neither President Bush nor Mr. Baker gave any indication when hostilities could begin.

But in an ominous note, Mr. Baker said Mr. Aziz had agreed to allow U.S. charge d'affaires Joseph Wilson and his four embassy staffers to leave Baghdad on Saturday.

Mr. Baker offered no support for the concept of a phased withdrawal such as was suggested yesterday by French President Francois Mitterrand, who expressed hope that U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar could organize it.

Asked what happens next, Mr. Baker replied, "I don't know what the next steps are," but he expressed hope that Mr. Perez de Cuellar would succeed in a mission to Baghdad. In a shift, Mr. Aziz said the secretary-general would be welcome.

The secretary-general said yesterday he would leave late today for Baghdad, arriving there Saturday.

"Now I feel it is my moral duty as secretary-general of the United Nations to do everything in order to avoid the worst," he said. "I will go with my moral authority."

The Perez de Cuellar mission is part of a last-minute series of diplomatic efforts strongly backed by Mr. Mitterrand, who nevertheless vowed yesterday that France's forces would join in seeking to liberate Kuwait after the U.N. deadline.

To raise the incentive for Iraq, he pledged that it would not be attacked if it began withdrawal before the deadline, and he proposed that an international peace conference on the Middle East get under way in 1991.

Iraq, however, while clearly open to moves that could delay hostilities, has given no indication it would accept terms such as those outlined by Mr. Mitterrand.

Part of yesterday's session was devoted to a U.S. description of the forces arrayed against Iraq and the devastation it could face if attacked.

But Mr. Aziz, whose English is nearly flawless and who said he keeps up with U.S. newspapers and watches CNN, professed to hear nothing new and insisted "we would not be surprised" by a U.S. attack.

"Iraq will defend itself in a very bold manner," he said. Its leadership, he said, was preparing for the worst.

The United States entered the talks with officials expressing little optimism for the result, but determined to show both the American public and restive allies that it was pursuing every possible course to avoid war.

But the pessimism was countered by Secretary Baker's reputation as a results-driven deal-maker.

As the talks resumed after an hour's lunch break at the Intercontinental Hotel, hopes mounted that the diplomats had gotten beyond an initial exchange of diametrically opposed positions to some common ground.

But when Mr. Baker, his eyes showing fatigue, entered the hotel ballroom after the talks ended, his assessment was bleak. "The clock is ticking on," he said.

"It was simply a case, after over six hours," that both sides had "pretty well made the points they came to make and that was it," he said.

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