The Dec. 30 front-page article "U.S. Had Key Role in Iraq Buildup" falsely claimed that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's 1983 meeting with Saddam Hussein "paved the way for normalization of U.S.-Iraqi relations."

In 1983 Mr. Rumsfeld was a private citizen, asked by President Ronald Reagan to serve as Middle East envoy after terrorists attacked the Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241 Americans.

Mr. Rumsfeld testified before a Senate committee in September 2002 that "at the time our concern was Syria, and Syria's role in Lebanon and Lebanon's role in the Middle East, and the terrorist acts that were taking place."

The principal purpose of Mr. Rumsfeld's trip to Iraq was to discuss these matters.

Although Iraqi weapons-of-mass-destruction programs were not the focus of his talks with Saddam Hussein and Tariq Aziz, Mr. Rumsfeld cautioned the Iraqis about the use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war.

The insinuation that Mr. Rumsfeld is responsible for Saddam Hussein and his ruthless regime is irresponsible and ludicrous.

VICTORIA CLARKE

Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs

U.S. Department of Defense

Washington

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The account of U.S. assistance to Iraq before August 1990 quoted a CIA analyst who said that in the 1980s he and his colleagues "were warning . . . that [Saddam] Hussein was a very nasty character" but that they "were constantly fighting the State Department" on this issue.

Although the pro-Iraq recommendations of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs ultimately did become policy, the record shows that they were not the product of a State Department consensus. In a recently declassified December 1988 memorandum to then-Secretary of State George P. Shultz, the Human Rights Bureau opposed a U.S. government loan to Iraq on the following grounds:

"If the general American public were aware of Iraq's human rights violations, as it is aware of human rights violations in countries covered more fully by the media, there would indeed be a great public outcry against U.S. assistance to that country. Even though the facts about Iraq's deplorable human rights record are not generally known, they are known to us and should be taken into full account."

Mr. Shultz left office without approving the loan.

Although the Near Eastern bureau ultimately won this intramural struggle, the Human Rights Bureau remained opposed to the pro-Iraq tilt, which came to an abrupt end on Aug. 2, 1990, with Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.

RICHARD SCHIFTER

Bethesda

The writer was assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs from 1985 to 1992.

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The most disturbing paragraph in the article about the complicity of the U.S. government and some members of the current administration in the creation of the Iraqi army our soldiers may be asked to dismantle was the last one.

It quoted Joe Wilson, a former deputy ambassador to Iraq, as saying, "Everybody in the Arab world told us that the best way to deal with Saddam [Hussein] was to develop a set of economic and commercial relationships that would have the effect of moderating his behavior. History will demonstrate that this was a miscalculation."

This misleading and self-justifying statement suggests that we tried "constructive engagement," in which the development of international commerce is supposed to lead to moderate dictators who care about their people.

No matter how suspect the effectiveness of constructive engagement, it certainly wasn't tried between the United States and Iraq. Does Mr. Wilson really believe that Arab leaders thought that selling military equipment, dual-use agricultural poisons, and anthrax and plague cultures -- the fundamental building blocks of biological weapons -- to Saddam Hussein would moderate his behavior?

CHRISTIAN ABNET

Silver Spring