Senators question envoy's remarks before gulf crisis

July 13, 1991|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Major senators accused the former U.S ambassador to Iraq yesterday of misleading Congress in March when she testified about a crucial meeting with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein shortly before he invaded Kuwait.

The senators' remarks came after they reviewed several secret cables, particularly one from the ambassador, April C. Glaspie, summarizing the meeting. The cables were provided by the State Department to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week.

The legislators say that in contrast to the tough approach Ms. Glaspie described at Capitol hearings, the cables show her taking a more conciliatory tone with Mr. Hussein.

In a letter to Secretary of State James A. Baker III yesterday, Sen. Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, demanded an explanation of what he called "inconsistencies" between Ms. Glaspie's testimony and the cabled summary, which she sent to the State Department July 25, 1990, the day she met with Mr. Hussein.

Sen. Alan Cranston, D-Calif., a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, charged in a statement that "April Glaspie deliberately misled the Congress about her role in the Persian Gulf tragedy."

A senior U.S. official said last night that Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger wrote to Mr. Pell, offering to appear before the Foreign Relations Committee with Ms. Glaspie to answer questions "at the earliest possible opportunity," the Associated Press reported.

Ms. Glaspie's interpretation of the two-hour meeting, as well as the secret reply to Mr. Hussein by President Bush that followed three days later, provide windows into the administration's conciliatory policy toward Mr. Hussein before the Aug. 2 invasion, despite the buildup of Iraqi troops on the Kuwaiti border.

The information in the cables, first disclosed yesterday in the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, is expected to figure in continuing investigations by the intelligence committees both houses of Congress into whether there was a failure of U.S. intelligence from the months before the invasion through the Persian Gulf war.

Contrary to Ambassador Glaspie's testimony that Mr. Hussein had told her he would settle his dispute with Kuwait peacefully, he made veiled threats during the meeting that he might have to resort to force. But she came away convinced that he did not intend to invade Kuwait.

"His emphasis that he wants peaceful settlement is surely sincere," she wrote in her conclusion. "Iraqis are sick of war."

Another secret cable sent from Mr. Bush to Mr. Hussein in response to Ms. Glaspie's reports took the same conciliatory approach. "We believe that differences are best resolved by peaceful means and not by threats involving military force or conflict," Mr. Bush wrote in a message that the ambassador delivered to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry.

"My administration continues to desire better relations with Iraq," Mr. Bush's message continued. The cables were made available to the New York Times yesterday.

NB Ms. Glaspie's summary of her conversation in one of the cables

stated that she had "made clear that we can never excuse settlement of disputes by other than peaceful means." But the cables do not show her having spoken of Kuwait's "vital" relationship with the United States, and most of her remarks appeared to be aimed at mollifying Mr. Hussein.

Her recommendation was that the Bush administration curb rather than intensify its criticism of Iraq. "I believe we would now be well advised to ease off on public criticism of Iraq until we see how the negotiations develop," she wrote.

Although Ms. Glaspie told the Foreign Relations Committee that an Iraqi version of her conversation with Mr. Hussein was "fabrication," with few exceptions her cables largely parallel the Arabic transcript made available to reporters by the Iraqi Foreign Ministry in September.

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