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  • Iraq Special Report
  •   Gulf States Blame Iraq Crisis on Baghdad's 'Reluctance to Cooperate'

    By John Lancaster
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Thursday, February 12, 1998; Page A33

    KUWAIT CITY, Feb. 11—U.S. efforts to line up Arab support for military action against Iraq gained ground today as Washington's Persian Gulf allies unanimously blamed Baghdad for its standoff with the United Nations and Egypt's president warned that President Saddam Hussein's defiance of U.N. arms inspections could provoke a violent American response.

    Foreign ministers of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council -- Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, United Arab Emirates and Qatar -- said after meeting here that "the current crisis is a direct result of Baghdad's reluctance to cooperate" with U.N. efforts to destroy its capabilities for making nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

    In Cairo, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak sounded an ominous tone after meeting with Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf, who along with other Iraqi officials is touring Arab capitals in a last-ditch effort to head off U.S. airstrikes that could begin later this month.

    "What I fear is, if Iraq does not implement the resolutions, this would lead to a strike, and no one can prevent the United States from [doing] that," he said.

    "I have talked to the Iraqi foreign minister and told him that the situation is dangerous and it is important to implement Security Council resolutions to avoid a crisis."

    With the possible exception of Kuwait, none of Washington's Arab allies is enthusiastic about the prospect of military action, fearing that anything short of a death blow to the Iraqi government -- a goal the Clinton administration has disavowed -- will merely prolong the agony of a fellow Arab state. All have emphasized their desire for a diplomatic solution and are deeply apprehensive about the effects of American bombing on Arab public opinion, particularly if Iraq suffers heavy civilian losses.

    At the same time, Washington retains great leverage over moderate Arab states, especially Gulf Arab countries for whom U.S. military forces are the principal deterrent against perceived threats from Iran and Iraq. These conflicting pressures have generated confusion as to the real motives of friendly Arab countries, some of which have publicly condemned the military option even while privately assuring U.S. officials of their support.

    During his tour of the region this week, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen has secured varying degrees of cooperation from the gulf oil monarchies, although only Kuwait and Bahrain have consented to the use of their territory as launching pads for U.S. airstrikes.

    Kuwaiti leaders, whose hatred of Saddam Hussein stems from the 1990 Iraqi invasion of their country, apparently lost little sleep over their decision to permit the basing of American strike planes at Jabir Air Base here. "It's not a difficult decision," said a source close to the Kuwaiti emir, Sheik Jabir Ahmed Sabah. "What's difficult is how to deal with Arab public opinion."

    But as diplomatic efforts by Russia and the Arab League, among others, have met continued resistance in Baghdad, other Arab governments in the Persian Gulf seem resigned to the inevitability, if not necessarily the wisdom, of a U.S.-led bombing campaign.

    "When D-Day comes, most of the Arabs will be closer to [Kuwait's] position," said a European diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity.

    Though far from an endorsement of U.S. military action, today's declaration by the gulf ministers will be welcomed nonetheless by Washington, because it explicitly blames Baghdad for causing the confrontation.

    "The current crisis is a direct result of Baghdad's reluctance to cooperate with United Nations weapons inspectors and its determination to defy the will of the international community with respect to the elimination of its arsenal of weapons of mass destruction," said a statement after the meeting, which was held at Kuwait's request. "The only solution to spare the people of Iraq additional hardship and dangers is the Iraqi regime's implementation of the U.N. resolutions, which it had previously accepted."

    Iraq insists that it has complied with the resolutions, which require the destruction of its nuclear, chemical and biological arsenal and were imposed after U.S.-led coalition forces drove Iraqi troops from Kuwait in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. In a diplomatic counteroffensive, Sahhaf and other senior Iraqi envoys have fanned out across the Arab world to exploit divisions between Washington and its Arab Gulf War coalition partners, including Syria and Egypt.

    On Tuesday, Sahhaf met in Damascus with President Hafez Assad, who, despite his longtime rivalry with Saddam Hussein, has condemned American threats of military action. Sahhaf then flew to Cairo, where he apparently had less success.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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