Hussein remains strong, confident, Arafat reports WAR IN THE GULF

February 17, 1991|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,Sun Staff Correspondent

AMMAN, Jordan -- Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who has cast his lot with Saddam Hussein for better or for worse, said yesterday that the Iraqi president remains cool and confident of victory should his peace plan fall on deaf ears.

But even if Iraq goes down to crushing defeat, Mr. Arafat said, his own Palestine Liberation Organization will rise from the ashes like "the phoenix bird" to play a key role in postwar negotiations in the Middle East.

Mr. Arafat, who made his remarks at a crowded, unruly afternoon news conference, met with Mr. Hussein in Baghdad a few days ago to discuss the war. He said Mr. Hussein told him in advance about the Iraqi peace proposal offered Friday. Mr. Hussein also gave advance notice to Jordan's King Hussein and "other Arab leaders," Mr. Arafat said.

The Iraqi president was in far better spirits than press reports had led Mr. Arafat to expect, he said. "Before meeting President Saddam, I was a little bit worried about his military position after what I read and heard from different sources about his losses. But, believe me, he gave me more optimism and he encouraged me more and more. He has full confidence. . . . He assured me that his situation is strong, and all of what had been declared is not true."

The PLO leader said that Mr. Hussein hadn't expected a cease-fire to result from the peace initiative. "He said, 'We are waiting for them if they decide to continue this aggression,' " Mr. Arafat said.

[In Cairo, Egypt, meanwhile, eight Arab allies in the Persian Gulf war, marking a possible shift in approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict, omitted any mention of the PLO from a statement issued yesterday on the future of the Middle East, Reuters reported.

[For years, Arab communiques have routinely called the PLO the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people."

[The omission appeared to reflect deep anger over Mr. Arafat's outspoken support for Mr. Hussein. Reuters quoted Western diplomats as saying that some gulf states would find it hard to forgive the PLO. The eight states were Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.]

Mr. Arafat compared Mr. Hussein's position favorably to the PLO's position during Israel's siege of Beirut, Lebanon, in 1981, saying, "I stayed for three months" even though "I had no missiles, I had no tanks, I had no unconventional weapons." But Iraq has all three of those items in its arsenal, Mr. Arafat said, meaning that the war "will be very long and the casualties will be very high." Because of that, Mr. Arafat said, he hoped that President Bush would reconsider the U.S. rejection of the Iraqi offer for talks.

"I was completely surprised by the negative response of President Bush," he said.

When asked about the conditions imposed by Mr. Hussein for an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, even though a United Nations resolution calls for an unconditional withdrawal, Mr. Arafat questioned why the United States hasn't sought enforcement of other U.N. resolutions. He cited the resolution calling for Israel's withdrawal from the West Bank territories gained in the 1967 war and said, speaking to a U.S. reporter, "In spite of that, you didn't send your armada to oppose the Israelis and follow up this resolution."

But Mr. Arafat said he was encouraged by the positive Soviet response to the Iraqi offer.

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