U.N. chief likely to offer Mideast talks Perez de Cuellar consults Europeans, leaves for Baghdad

January 12, 1991|By Diana Jean Schemo | Diana Jean Schemo,Sun Staff Correspondent

GENEVA -- U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, who departed for Baghdad yesterday in a last-minute effort to avert war with Iraq, will propose convening an international peace conference on the Middle East if Iraq agrees to withdraw from Kuwait, European foreign ministers in Geneva said.

Mr. Perez de Cuellar met with European Community foreign ministers here earlier yesterday, outlining what Portuguese Foreign Minister Joao de Deus Pinheiro described as a five-point proposal to induce Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to withdraw.

"If Saddam Hussein doesn't accept this whole package . . . in my opinion it means they want war, really want war, they are not prepared to accept anything," Mr. Pinheiro said afterward. "And I would say then that war would be 100 percent justified."

None of the diplomats and government officials here said that Washington had explicitly agreed to the conference proposal.

Also, after landing late last night in Amman, Jordan, the secretary-general insisted he had no set plan to offer for averting the Persian Gulf war, but he said he might consider a U.N. peacekeeping force to replace foreign forces in the gulf region.

In Geneva, Mr. Perez de Cuellar collected European support for what are delicately being called "post-crisis" proposals, including the establishment of a U.N. peacekeeping force in the region and a promise that the European Community would press with "new vigor" for an international conference on the Middle East, said Hans van den Broek, the Dutch foreign minister.

Diplomats said that Mr. Perez de Cuellar had had recent contacts with U.S., Soviet and European leaders, as well as with Yugoslav Foreign Minister Budimir Loncar, who currently heads the Non-Aligned Movement at the United Nations. The diplomats said that the secretary-general was traveling with the support -- though not necessarily the mandate -- of all of them.

According to Mr. Pinheiro, Mr. Perez de Cuellar will propose the following incentives to Iraq if it agrees to withdraw from Kuwait:

* A promise that the multinational coalition would not attack Iraq.

* Withdrawal of the 28-nation anti-Iraq coalition from the Persian Gulf region.

* A U.N. observer force to monitor the withdrawals.

* A U.N. peacekeeping force to guard Iraq's borders with Kuwait and prevent future hostilities. (German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher said this force could be made up exclusively of Arab members of the United Nations.)

* An international conference on the Middle East, "as soon as the current crisis is solved," possibly this year.

As recently as Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III ruled out an international conference after talks with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz here, saying that he would not "link" the Arab-Israeli dispute to the invasion of Kuwait.

But European foreign ministers and Mr. Perez de Cuellar appeared yesterday to reach for a face-saving formula that would pull both the U.S.-led coalition and Iraq back from the brink of war, and observers here note that the United States has not publicly objected to the U.N. mission.

Officials here, suggesting that an international conference would not represent a U.S. concession to Iraq, cited President Bush's speech before the U.N. General Assembly in October and U.S. agreement to a declaration by the U.N. Security Council president last month mentioning an international conference on the Middle East.

They also cited U.S. statements since August that the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait had pushed all other regional problems from the agenda and that progress could be made on the Palestinian problem following an Iraqi withdrawal.

It appeared yesterday that Mr. Perez de Cuellar was traveling more with a set of ideas and propositions than with firm engagements on behalf of the United Nations. Should Iraq appear receptive to the secretary-general's incentives, he would then seek agreement from the United States and other U.N. members.

Mr. Perez de Cuellar himself was diplomatically discreet about the proposals he would take to Baghdad. He denied carrying any specific set of new propositions to induce Mr. Hussein to leave Kuwait but said that even if he had such ideas, he would reveal them first to the Iraqi leader.

Diplomats here, eager to stress that today's visit would not stray from U.N. resolutions or from U.S. positions, emphasized that their real hope for the mission's success rested in Mr. Perez de Cuellar's moral standing and position as secretary-general of the international organization rather than in any new proposals he may be carrying to Baghdad.

Still, French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas noted yesterday, "It's not worth his going to Baghdad if it's only to repeat what others have said before him."

A visit by Mr. Dumas to Baghdad, considered tentatively as part of a joint French-Arab effort to avoid war, was put off pending the outcome of this weekend's diplomatic efforts.

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