Victory would thrust U.S. into peace role, experts say WAR IN THE GULF

January 18, 1991|By Diana Jean Schemo | Diana Jean Schemo,Paris Bureau of The Sun

PARIS -- A decisive military victory by U.S.-led forces over Iraq would reinforce American dominance in a postwar Middle East and probably oblige the United States to deliver serious pressure on Israel to negotiate a settlement to the Palestinian problem, analysts and diplomats here and in London said yesterday.

Experts on the Middle East said it was still too soon to say how the Persian Gulf war might continue and end and how, ultimately, it would reshuffle the political deck in the region.

Much will depend on the duration of the war, on unforeseen outbreaks that might draw other countries, such as Jordan or Israel, into the fighting, and on the kind of peace that eventually is constructed.

If the strong U.S. showing of the first 24 hours in the Persian Gulf continues and forces an eventual Iraqi surrender, two things will be clear:

* The United States would stand as the dominant power in the postwar Middle East.

* It would owe the Arab and European allies a debt for the political and military support they lent in successfully neutralizing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and for reasserting U.S. leadership.

"America is the only superpower," Dominique Moisi, director of the French Institute for International Relations, said in describing one of the most likely outcomes of a decisive defeat of Iraq that he considered certain.

The United States, he said, could expect "greater pressure to play the role of a superpower" if it should lead the allies to a conclusive defeat over Iraq, although he predicted that domestic mood and budget concerns would make the United States reluctant to play the role of political manager.

Part of the responsibility -- and opportunity -- the United States would inherit for defeating Iraq would be a strong say for U.S. interests as this new balance is worked out, as well as a U.S. presence in the area at least until a new political stability could be ensured.

That is also where the pressure for an international conference would come in. It is not just gratitude to the Arabs and Europeans that would oblige the United States to pressure Israel, analysts said.

Amid the popular rage in parts of the Muslim world against the Americans and Europeans for waging war against Mr. Hussein, addressing the Palestinian question after Mr. Hussein's defeat is seen as a means of softening humiliation and cooling tempers.

"An international conference would be needed to show this is not a war between Arabs and the West," said Sam Cohen of Paris' Center for the Study of International Relations.

He added, however, that Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat's support for Iraq means that Israel would resist an international conference "more than ever."

French President Francois Mitterrand, firmly backed by the European Community, has maintained his call for an international peace conference to settle what he describes as "the underlying problems" of the Middle East once the war ends.

Mr. Mitterrand raised the demand for an international conference even during the televised address he made to the French people Tuesday night, before hostilities against Iraq had begun.

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