Diplomatic tug-of-war in the gulf Fast swing by Albright will focus on 4 states vulnerable to Iraq

Aziz seeking Arab support

Hussein's government repeats threats to fire on U-2 flights

November 16, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

AMMAN, Jordan -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright switched her travel plans yesterday to press a major diplomatic push in the Persian Gulf states, as Iraq stiffened its aggressive stance in its showdown with the United States.

Albright, on a round-the-world trip, announced she would make a lightning swing today through the four Persian Gulf states most vulnerable to attack from Iraq.

The Iraqi government repeated yesterday its threats to fire on U-2 surveillance flights, the next expected to take place today, and a newspaper owned by Saddam Hussein's son called for Arab commando assaults on U.S. and British embassies and warships.

In Sacramento, Calif., President Clinton, while expressing optimism for a diplomatic solution, called on Americans to look at the crisis "in terms of the innocent Japanese people who died in the subway when the Sarin gas was released."

He added, "How important it is for every responsible government in the world to do everything that can possibly be done not to let big stores of chemical or biological weapons fall into the wrong hands, not to let irresponsible people develop the capacity to put those big warheads on missiles or put them in briefcases that can be exploded in small rooms."

In the aftermath of Iraq's expulsion of six American weapons inspectors and the United States' order Friday sending a second aircraft carrier battle group to the Persian Gulf region, Washington and Baghdad jockeyed for diplomatic advantage while noisily making preparations for possible armed confrontation.

"If a U-2 plane is going to fly over us, we will be obliged to defend our security which indicates we are going to shoot such planes," Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Said Sahaf said at a news conference in Baghdad.

Earlier, Sahaf accused the Clinton administration of aiming to topple Hussein and replace him with a compliant pro-American Iraqi government.

On Albright's one-day gulf tour, she will stop in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait, where Baghdad's invasion in 1990 led to the Persian Gulf war won by a U.S.-led multinational force.

As Albright made her travel plans, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tarik Aziz -- just returning from a failed attempt to win concessions for Iraq at the United Nations -- also put together an itinerary to try to rally support within the Arab world for easing U.N. sanctions against Iraq. He was scheduled to leave Paris today for an open-ended diplomatic tour expected to take in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. He might also meet with officials of the 22-member Arab League.

Although Sahaf denied at his news conference that Iraq has gone onto a "war footing" and said he would appreciate any Arab attempts to mediate the dispute, the Iraqi government has taken many emergency steps. Those included rationing gasoline, ordering troops to bases, asking for volunteers to join elite military units and sending thousands of civilian "human shields" to camp out at presidential palaces and other likely targets of any U.S. attacks.

Yesterday's front-page editorial of Babel, a newspaper owned by Uday Hussein, urged Arabs to go on the offensive against the two main Western powers that are ranged against Hussein -- the United States and Britain.

Albright, on a stop in Bern, Switzerland, denounced the editorial. "Saddam Hussein knows what he has to do and threatening us or anyone else is not the answer," she told a news conference here after talks with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. "It's highly irresponsible of [Saddam] to make those kinds of calls when what he ought to be doing is responding to the legitimate call of the international community as stated through a series of Security Council resolutions."

In a strong indication of how the situation has changed since the 1991 Persian Gulf war, Arafat called for "international resolve to be respected" in the crisis.

Arafat was among the few Arab leaders to stand behind Hussein during Operation Desert Storm, a move that backfired on him politically in the outside world and cost him millions in financial support from the rich Arab gulf states.

Pub Date: 11/16/97

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