Iraq's Hussein appeals to Clinton for dialogue

February 15, 1993|By New York Times News Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- In his first personal appeal to President Clinton, President Saddam Hussein has urged him to open a new chapter in U.S. relations with Iraq.

"I believe that the president of the biggest country in the world, with the most destructive potential, needs to try wisdom and not weapons," the official Iraqi news agency quoted the Iraqi leader as saying, in a reference to Iraq's crushing defeat in the Persian Gulf war.

In a goodwill gesture on Jan. 19, Mr. Hussein had said his forces would respect the ban on flights over northern and southern Iraq that the United States and its allies have imposed to enforce the cease-fire terms that followed the gulf war.

"I simply believe that we can pave the way for building new relations based on mutual respect and the exchange of legitimate interests regardless to what has happened," Mr. Hussein said.

The remarks were made Saturday during a "political dialogue" with Ramsey Clark, a former U.S. attorney general who was an outspoken critic of the gulf war. Mr. Clark, now a lawyer in New York, told reporters that he had come here as a private citizen to meet Iraqi officials and evaluate the effects of United Nations sanctions.

Mr. Hussein's comments received wide coverage in the government-controlled media. A transcript of the discussion was read by an anchorman on state television news for 70 minutes. RTC Official newspapers displayed the report and accompanying photographs of Mr. Hussein and Mr. Clark across their front pages.

It was the first time Mr. Hussein had personally called on Mr. Clinton to open a dialogue; previous overtures were made by high-ranking Iraqi officials and government media.

Mr. Hussein also praised Mr. Clinton for his opposition to the Vietnam War. "There are some trying to make the anti-war past of Clinton a matter of personal weakness," he said. "We and the entire humanity consider this aspect of Clinton's personality a mark of strength."

Relieved by the arrival of a new man in the White House, Iraq has apparently embarked on a fresh strategy of avoiding confrontation or radical oratory and making peace gestures aimed at a rapprochement.

"He doesn't want to give too much," an Arab ambassador in Baghdad said, "but he wants to break the ice and the hostility."

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