Prisoners of Saddam Hussein

March 28, 1995

American hearts go out to the families of William Barloon and David Daliberti, the two civilians working on airplane maintenance in Kuwait who strayed into Iraq and the clutches of its dictator.

A civil regime would have kicked them out with a warning. Iraq arrested and tried them for entering the country illegally, sentencing both to eight years. Effectively, they are bargaining chips held by the wily Saddam Hussein in his complex dealings with the United States.

The principal difficulty between the two countries now revolves around whether to lift United Nations sanctions embargoing Iraq's oil exports, or to control those exports closely so that proceeds go only to food and medicine Iraqi people need. France and Russia are on record for lifting sanctions if Iraq is found to be in compliance with U.N. demands for scrapping weapons of mass destruction.

The U.S., backed by Britain and other countries, wants sanctions kept on to deter further aggression, with a greater allowance of oil sale for humanitarian purposes. Iraq rejects such favors.

How the U.N. Security Council decides this matter rests greatly on what Rolf Ekeus, U.N. envoy in charge of disarming Iraq, reports on April 10 about compliance. He told journalists in Baghdad yesterday that he had some satisfaction in the area of chemical warfare, leaving "question marks of very considerable importance" on biological warfare.

The Clinton administration is right in this tense situation to press all the diplomatic buttons for a return of Mr. Barloon and Mr. Daliberti. Two Republican candidates for president who talked casually about military measures were indulging in the same fantasy Mr. Clinton did before election when he thought bombing Serb artillery in Bosnia would be easy and prudent, an idea he dropped immediately upon winning responsibility.

Bombing Iraq is not the way to extricate Mr. Barloon and Mr. Daliberti safely. Neither is capsizing before Saddam Hussein's demands. The men were where they should not have been, in a very serious game. The last American in their boat was held 208 days before release. Their discomfort cannot be reason for compromising U.S. interests or sacrificing the requirements of a peaceful world. Republican candidates for president, being in no position to help, ought at least do no harm.

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