U.N. peace mission to Iraq ends on discouraging note

January 14, 1991|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Sun Staff Correspondent

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar left for Paris last night tight-lipped about his 2 1/2 -hour meeting yesterday with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Perez de Cuellar said he could not describe his session with the Iraqi president until he reported to the U.N. Security Council.

"God only knows if there will be peace or war in the gulf," he said in response to a question.

His single meeting with Mr. Hussein -- after waiting much of the day to see him -- and his immediate departure afterward were seen as discouraging signs that the two had not made progress toward peace.

Mr. Perez de Cuellar's brief comments at the airport gave little hint of hope.

"You can say I have a very good idea of their position and have taken the opportunity to share with them some ideas of my own," he said. "For me the important point is that everyone wants peace."

Asked whether he was optimistic or pessimistic about the chances of war in the Persian Gulf, he said: "I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist."

[In an earlier radio address, Mr. Hussein reiterated that his country is ready to fight to keep conquered Kuwait, according to the Associated Press.

["Our 19th province has become a battlefield for the showdown in which the [Arab] nation will be triumphant," Mr. Hussein said in the broadcast, referring to Kuwait as an Iraqi province.]

Mr. Perez de Cuellar arrived in Baghdad in a desperate attempt to prevent war from erupting. Tomorrow is the U.N. deadline authorizing use of force to remove Iraqi forces that invaded Kuwait Aug. 2.

He made the trip because talks in Geneva between emissaries of the Iraq and the United States failed to budge either side.

Iraqi authorities kept details of his visit secret from the international press corps gathered in Baghdad. But it was apparent that his mission was not treated as a top priority.

Mr. Perez de Cuellar arrived about 5 p.m. Saturday but did not get to see the Iraqi president until 6:15 p.m. yesterday. Before meeting the U.N. official, Mr. Hussein reportedly entertained former Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega Saavedra and a visiting Japanese delegation.

Mr. Perez de Cuellar spent about three hours with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz. Mr. Aziz accompanied him to the airport last night, but the Iraqi official left without talking to reporters.

Mr. Perez de Cuellar said he would fly on the U.N. jet to Paris, then catch a Concorde flight to New York.

Before the meeting, Iraqi Radio in Baghdad quoted Mr. Hussein in remarks that continued his recent tenor of war. He was quoted in the state-controlled radio as predicting that Kuwait "would be the theater of a great battle" and inviting Syria to join his forces.

Mr. Perez de Cuellar arrived here after a flurry of meetings with European Community officials and other leaders. Some have called this the last hope for diplomacy to avoid war.

After his arrival Saturday, he apparently talked at some length with Mr. Aziz.

According to Palestinian sources, Mr. Perez de Cuellar met again yesterday morning with Mr. Aziz and with Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat.

In a separate news conference yesterday morning, Mr. Arafat again called for an Arab solution to the crisis and dismissed the Jan. 15 U.N. deadline.

"That is an American ultimatum," he said. "In my opinion, there is no deadline."

He said that "peace needs time and patience" and called for a "comprehensive solution" for peace in the Mideast that includes addressing the Palestinian problem.

Baghdad is now largely empty of Western diplomats, except for the French, who remain for the possibility of French involvement in any subsequent diplomatic effort. Other, non-Western embassies also began to close yesterday, a sign of the seriousness with which the world is taking this crisis.

Diplomats from the Turkish Embassy, who had vowed just two days ago to remain in Baghdad, set out in a caravan yesterday for the border.

Said a non-Western diplomat who was ordered to leave: "If we are told to move out . . . it has some significance. For the first time, I am scared."

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