GENEVA, SEPT. 7 -- The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross accused Iraq today of blocking at the last minute an agreement that would have allowed the organization to pay "humanitarian visits" to foreigners detained in Baghdad and Kuwait.
Cornelio Sommaruga, president of the ICRC, said at a press conference that he had been on the point of flying to Baghdad to sign the deal but was told at the last moment that the Iraqis were not ready.
"I don't know what that means. You will have to ask them," he said. "But I can tell you we are very upset that we could not find a solution so that these people could at least be visited by the Red Cross."
He said he was abandoning his efforts in Baghdad for the moment.
The agreement to give the ICRC visiting rights with the detained foreigners was worked out in three long meetings with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz earlier this week, Sommaruga said. After the last meeting, on Wednesday, he flew to Tehran to meet with government officials there, intending to return to Baghdad today to sign the agreement. He received word that the Iraqis had backed off late last night, he said.
According to Sommaruga, Aziz also told him that Iraq has no intention of allowing the Geneva conventions on treatment of prisoners and civilians to be applied in the current crisis, on the grounds that it is neither an armed conflict nor an international incident but purely an Iraqi domestic affair. "Of course, I rejected this thesis strongly," he said.
Sommaruga, who also met with Jordan's Crown Prince Hassan and Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati during his trip, said the ICRC will continue its work on the periphery of Iraq.
In Jordan, he said, it will step up its work in aiding refugees flooding into that country from Iraq. The Iranian government, he said, has pledged to work with the ICRC to aid Asian refugees seeking to make their way home from Iraq.