Ex-envoy says she told Hussein not to attack

March 21, 1991|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- April C. Glaspie, the U.S. ambassador who met with Saddam Hussein eight days before Iraq invaded Kuwait, broke an eight-month silence yesterday, saying that the Iraqi president assured her he would not attack Kuwait after she sternly warned him that the United States "would defend our vital interests, we would support the right of self-defense of our friends in the [Persian] Gulf."

Her account before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee contradicted a purported transcript of the meeting released by the Iraqi government in September quoting Ms. Glaspie as telling Mr. Hussein that the United States had "no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait."

Yesterday, Ms. Glaspie characterized the "so-called transcript" as "disinformation . . . edited to the point of inaccuracy." She said it was Mr. Hussein, not she, who backed down at the meeting.

"He, I think, felt stymied," she said. "He surrendered. . . . He wanted me to inform President Bush that he would not solve his problems with Kuwait by violence, period. . . . It was a strange atmosphere because he was conciliatory, and he normally is not."

She and the Bush administration took Mr. Hussein at his word, she said, although she spoke repeatedly of Mr. Hussein's record of duplicity. Five days after the meeting, while 100,000 Iraqi troops massed on the Kuwait border, she left for a long-planned vacation in Europe. Three days after that, the Iraqi army rolled into Kuwait.

Had she and the Bush administration misjudged Mr. Hussein, a senator asked?

"Our mistake was that, like every other government in the world, we foolishly did not realize that he was stupid," she answered. "He did not believe our clear and repeated warnings."

Also helping to mislead the United States was the region's history of minor border incursions that hadn't led to major invasions, she said. Moreover, she added, Iraq seemed poised to get what it had sought from Kuwait without having to fire a single shot.

But she said that Mr. Hussein apparently decided to ignore the U.S. warning.

"He overcame that idea [of acceding to U.S. wishes]," she said. "I think it was just a passing fancy. The point is he thought that he had to take Kuwait. . . . It was deception on a major scale, and it was an extraordinary miscalculation."

His biggest miscalculation, she said, was thinking that the gulf nations would never allow U.S troops into the region.

"By invading Kuwait, he galvanized the Arab world in the direction opposite to what he wanted," she said. "Arab states which would not have permitted any American ground forces in their territory on August the 1st accepted them on August the 2nd with pleasure."

Some members of Congress and foreign affairs analysts had questioned whether the State Department's lack of sternness inadvertently signaled to Mr. Hussein that the United States would not respond to an invasion of Kuwait.

Such speculation increased in September, when Iraq released its "transcript" of the Hussein-Glaspie meeting, and Secretary of State James A. Baker III did nothing to douse the speculation by declining to comment on the accuracy of the document.

Ms. Glaspie explained yesterday that "it simply seemed it was not a time for retrospectives. It was a time to build our forces and to build the coalition."

But yesterday Ms. Glaspie described in great detail her correspondence with Iraqi officials during the two weeks before the invasion.

Mr. Hussein first raised fears of an invasion July 17, when he spoke bluntly on Baghdad television of possible actions against Kuwait if the country didn't help stabilize dropping oil prices by cutting production.

"This was a naked threat," Ms. Glaspie said. "Just hours later, we responded, publicly and privately."

She met with several Iraqi high officials, relaying U.S. concerns and warnings, she said. On July 20 word came that Iraqi forces were mobilizing and heading for the Kuwaiti border.

Four days later, the United States responded by announcing a joint military exercise in the region with the nearby United Arab Emirates.

That day, she said, "I was summoned at midnight" to the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

"I explained that we were a superpower and intended to act like one. We had vital interests, and we would protect them."

The next day, she said, she was summoned to see Mr. Hussein, whom she hadn't met before.

The members of the Senate committee, including the Democrats, appeared to accept her explanations at face value.

None aggressively questioned her, and none questioned her decision to proceed with vacation plans in late July.

Committee members did ask her to supply them with copies of the diplomatic cables between the State Department and her embassy during those days.

Ms. Glaspie said she would ask her bosses, but she cautioned, "In my 25 years I do not recall any government -- except Iraq -- issuing a transcript of a confidential government exchange."

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