In somber setting, generals meet to seal peace WAR IN THE GULF

March 04, 1991|By Philip Shenon | Philip Shenon,New York Times News Service

SAFWAN, Iraq -- The Iraqi general wore an unsettling grin at the negotiating table, as if he thought that some simple misunderstanding had turned into war quite by accident and might now be settled with a few calm words of understanding.

But the American who faced him across the table was somber. Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf said that yesterday morning, before arriving here to set terms leading to a formal cease-fire, he had seen firsthand, for the first time, the devastation wrought by Iraq on Kuwait.

He took his place at the simple wooden table and would not offer the Iraqi, Lt. Gen. Sultan Hashim Ahmad, the comfort of even the slightest hint of a smile.

The meeting took place here south of Basra beneath a green canvas army tent pitched in a stretch of the occupied Iraqi desert a few miles from the border with Kuwait.

Within two hours, the obviously humbled Iraqi delegation had accepted all the demands that were presented for a permanent cease-fire in the Persian Gulf war. In effect, the Iraqis had surrendered, and the coalition's victory over the government of President Saddam Hussein appeared complete.

Allied officials acknowledged that the setting, and staging, of yesterday's meeting were intended to make the Iraqis realize the extent of their defeat.

The site, an Iraqi airstrip now occupied by allied forces, was ringed with more than 50 tanks and other armored vehicles draped with American and British flags.

The helicopter squadron that brought General Schwarzkopf to the airfield included six Apache attack helicopters, each armed with a load of Hellfire missiles and a 30mm gun. The Iraqis were escorted to the airfield by allied soldiers in open-air Jeep-like vehicles.

U.S. soldiers said the Iraqi officers seemed awed by the allied firepower placed all around them.

`They looked defeated," said Sgt. Jack Seymour of Fayetteville, N.C., who escorted the eight-man Iraqi delegation to the airstrip yesterday morning from a checkpoint near the Iraq-Kuwait border.

The negotiations were held in a tent set up along the airstrip, which was captured during the thrust across the Saudi border by the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry Division.

[The redwood table had been set up by Maj. Kathy Stinson of Wheaton, Md., the protocol officer for the VII Corps. "I put the table up," she told the Associated Press. "It's going into the Smithsonian."]

Once inside the tent with Iraqi negotiators, General Schwarzkopf's expression turned to stone, offering no hint of any willingness to conciliate. When the talks ended, a still unsmiling General Schwarzkopf saluted the Iraqi officers, and they saluted him.

Earlier, in the morning, General Schwarzkopf had traveled by jet from Riyadh, the Saudi capital, to Kuwait City, where he then boarded a helicopter for a tour of Kuwait.

"I saw Kuwait many times before the war," he said. "I remember it as a beautiful place . . . and it's a tragedy to see that somebody could set out to deliberately destroy a country the way the Iraqis have."

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