JERUSALEM (Apr. 15)
A reported offer by President Saddam Hussein of Iraq to dismantle his weapons of mass destruction if Israel does the same seemed to satisfy four of the five U.S. senators who held a news conference here Sunday, winding up their fact-finding mission to the Middle East.
Only Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio), the lone Democrat and sole Jew in the group led by Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.), was dubious of Hussein’s peaceful intentions. In fact, he suggested that the Iraqi leader suffers from a “war psychosis.”
In Washington, the Bush administration welcomed Hussein’s reported offer, but not the condition attached to it.
The senatorial junketeers visited Egypt, Jordan and Syria before coming to Israel. But it was their unscheduled side trip Thursday to Iraq — reportedly arranged by President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt — which aroused greatest interest.
That was possibly because Hussein on April 2 shocked the world with a threat to destroy “half of Israel” with chemical weapons in his arsenal.
In addition, Iraq has been accused by Britain and the United States of trying illicitly to obtain components of nuclear weapons or the means of launching nuclear or chemical weapons at distant targets in Israel and Iran.
There also have been media reports in recent weeks that Iraq is developing biological weapons that could be used against Israel.
Most of the visiting senators accepted that, in issuing his threat, Hussein was speaking hypo-thetically of retaliation against an attack on Iraq by Israel, such as the pre-emptive raid it launched in 1981, when Israeli warplanes destroyed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor near Baghdad.
METZENBAUM IS SKEPTICAL
But a visiting American Jewish leader rejected that argument here Sunday.
“I am bewildered how anyone would view Hussein’s threats as hypothetical rhetoric,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.
“After all,” he said, “this is a man who started a war resulting in 1 million deaths in the Persian Gulf and who used chemical bombs against defenseless Kurdish citizens.”
Metzenbaum also was skeptical of the Iraqi president’s intentions. He was quoted Friday as saying he “heard no mention of the word peace” from Hussein during his one-hour talk with the American delegation.
The Iraqi leader “concentrated on confrontation, military, war,” the senator said.
The others on the mission were Sens. James McClure of Idaho. Alan Simpson of Wyoming and Frank Murkowski of Alaska, all Republicans.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Friday that the United States “would, of course, welcome any offer to destroy chemical weapons.”
(JTA correspondent David Friedman in Washington contributed to this report.)