GENEVA (Jan. 9)
Fears that the United States might make concessions on the Arab-Israeli peace process in exchange for an Iraqi pullout from Kuwait evaporated after U.S. Secretary of State James Baker emerged Wednesday from six hours of talks here with his Iraqi counterpart.
Baker said he made clear to Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz that the United States would not agree to any “specific steps” in the Arab-Israeli conflict as a condition for Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait.
The secretary spoke at a news conference here after the marathon meeting with Aziz and his aides, which President Bush later described in Washington as a “total stiff-arm” from Iraq.
“Rewarding Iraq’s aggression with a link to the Arab-Israel peace process would really send a terrible signal not only to continuing peacemakers in the region but also to other would-be aggressors,” said Baker.
He said his talks with the Iraqis were conducted in a “somber mood.”
“Regretfully, I heard nothing that suggests to me any Iraqi flexibility,” Baker said.
He reported that Aziz refused to take back to Baghdad a letter from President Bush to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
In Washington, Bush rejected any linkage of the Israeli-Palestinian issue with an Iraqi withdrawal of forces. “The argument with Saddam is about Kuwait,” Bush said during a 45-minute news conference at the White House.
He said that while he was pessimistic about an Iraqi withdrawal, he had not “given up on a peaceful outcome.”
RENEWS THREAT TO ATTACK ISRAEL
Aziz, at a news conference of his own in Geneva, said Iraq would attack Israel if the United States attacked Iraq.
Questioned about that threat, Bush said, “We are prepared to do what we need to do.” He said that not only the United States but others would respond if a “friend in the area was wantonly attacked.”
He did not specify what the United States would do, but warned Saddam Hussein to “think long and hard before he started a war.”
In Israel, there were conflicting reactions to the apparent failure of the Baker-Aziz meeting to find a peaceful settlement of the Gulf crisis.
Defense Minister Moshe Arens, who watched Baker’s news conference, said, “War is nearer.”
Foreign Minister David Levy, who appeared on television earlier Wednesday evening, predicted that further efforts would be made to reach a peaceful solution before the Jan. 15 U.N. deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait.
There had been “no surprises and no slamming of the door,” Levy observed in a television interview.
In Paris, President Francois Mitterrand said if Iraq did not comply with the Jan. 15 deadline, “an armed conflict would become almost certain.”
Contrary to earlier indications, France may not move ahead with its own peace initiative. Mitterrand said that while there was no reason in principle why France should not send an emissary to Baghdad, “this, in my opinion, wouldn’t be useful now.”
But he made the comment earlier in the day, when it appeared Baker and Aziz were making progress toward a settlement.
ONLY HOPE IS A U.N. MISSION
Mitterrand said he understands that the United States feels an international conference to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict might look like a concession to Saddam Hussein.
But the French president made clear that he still favors that approach and had been urging an international conference since 1983.
Baker said at his news conference that he told Aziz that Iraq must either “comply with the will of the international community and withdraw peacefully from Kuwait or be expelled by force.”
But the secretary of state has stressed that the United States and its international partners have not decided on the use of force and want a peaceful solution. He urged Iraq not to add another “miscalculation” to the many it has made since it invaded Kuwait, because, he said, Iraq cannot win a military confrontation.
Baker indicated that the only hope for a peaceful outcome might come from U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, since Iraq is being asked to abide by 12 Security Council resolutions passed in the last five months.
But the “time for talk is running out,” Baker warned.
At the United Nations, a spokesman for Perez de Cuellar said the secretary-general was contemplating a diplomatic mission of his own.
During the talks in Geneva, Aziz brought up the Arab-Israeli conflict, and there was a long discussion of it, Baker reported. He said he described U.S. efforts to bring about a solution, including the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, as well as his own efforts in the region since becoming secretary of state.
Baker said he repeatedly stressed that the Arab-Israeli peace process is separate from the Persian Gulf crisis.
“I did make the point that I don’t think that many people believe that Iraq invaded Kuwait in order to help the Palestinians,” Baker said. “And if it did,” he added, “it was another miscalculation, because it hasn’t helped the Palestinians.”
JEWISH GROUPS SUPPORTIVE
Baker added that “most people realize that Iraq is trying to use the Palestinian issue to shield its aggression against Kuwait.”
Aziz said at his news conference, which followed Baker’s, that “if the American administration changes its position and works with us and with the other parties concerned in the region to bring about peace–a comprehensive, lasting peace–we would be very glad, and very enthusiastic, to participate in that effort.”
Aziz said he “explained that the Palestinian question is a question of national security here, that if the Palestinian question is not resolved, we do not feel secure in our country.”
“Israel attacked Iraq in 1981, and we were expecting an Israel attack on Iraq” in March and April 1990, Aziz said.
Asked if Iraq would attack Israel if attacked by the United States, Aziz said, “Yes, absolutely yes.” But he said no attack on Israel would occur if there were no U.S. attack on Iraq.
In New York, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations issued a statement Wednesday supporting the Bush administration’s policy in the Gulf crisis and applauding its “refusal to accept any linkage of the occupation of Kuwait with the Palestinian issue.”
“We trust that this U.S. policy will not be undermined by the attempts of other nations to appease Saddam Hussein or in any way to reward his aggression,” said the conference, which represents 50 Jewish religious and secular groups in the United States.
(Contributing to this report were JTA correspondents Tamar Levy in Geneva, David Friedman and Howard Rosenberg in Washington, David Landau in Jerusalem and Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv.)