BAKER 'I Heard Nothing That Suggested Any Iraqi Flexibility'

Ladies and gentlemen, I have just given President Bush a full report of our meeting today. I told him that Minister Aziz and I had completed a serious and extended diplomatic conversation in an effort to find a political solution to the crisis in the gulf. I met with Minister Aziz today not to negotiate, as we had made clear we would not do, that is, negotiate backwards from United Nations Security Council resolutions, but I met with him today to communicate. And "communicate" means listening as well as talking. And we did that, both of us.

The message that I conveyed from President Bush and our coalition partners was that Iraq must either comply with the will of the international community and withdraw peacefully from Kuwait or be expelled by force.

Regrettably, ladies and gentlemen, I heard nothing today that -- in over six hours, I heard nothing that suggested to me any Iraqi flexibility whatsoever on complying with the United Nations Security Council resolutions.

There have been too many Iraqi miscalculations. The Iraqi government miscalculated the international response to the invasion of Kuwait, expecting the world community to stand idly by while Iraqi forces systematically pillaged a peaceful neighbor. It miscalculated the response, I think, to the barbaric policy of holding thousands of foreign hostages, thinking that somehow cynically doling them out a few at a time would somehow win political advantage, and it miscalculated that it could divide the international community and gain something thereby from its aggression.

So let us hope that Iraq does not miscalculate again. The Iraqi leadership must have no doubt that the 28 nations which have deployed forces to the gulf in support of the United Nations have both the power and the will to evict Iraq from Kuwait. If it should choose -- and the choice is Iraq's -- if it should choose to continue its brutal occupation of Kuwait, Iraq will be choosing a military confrontation which it cannot win and which will have devastating consequences for Iraq.

I made these points with Minister Aziz not to threaten, but to inform, and I did so with no sense of satisfaction. For we genuinely desire a peaceful outcome, and as both President Bush and I have said on many occasions, the people of the United States have no quarrel with the people of Iraq.

I simply wanted to leave as little room as possible for yet another tragic miscalculation by the Iraqi leadership, and I would suggest to you, ladies and gentlemen, that this is still a confrontation that Iraq can avoid. The path of peace remains open, and that path is laid out very clearly in 12 United Nations Security Council resolutions adopted over a period of over five months. But now the choice lies with the Iraqi leadership. The choice really is theirs to make. And let us all hope that that leadership will have the wisdom to choose the path of peace.

Q.

What do you -- what do your allies plan to do next to bring this message home?

A.

Well, you say what do the allies plan to do next, and I think it's important for everyone to note that this a coalition. This is not Iraq versus the United States; this is Iraq versus the international community. This happens to have been the first time that we've had an opportunity to find an agreement on meeting U.S. and Iraq. So I don't know what the next steps are. I do know this, that time is running on, as I said a day or so ago. After five months and 12 United Nations Security Council resolutions, it seems to me that it is almost evident that the time for talk is running out. It's time for Iraq to act and to at quickly by getting out of Kuwait. But this a coalition, and we are seeking to implement solemn resolutions of the United Nations, and so perhaps there may be a way that the Secretary General of the United Nations could use his good offices here in the remaining six or so days that we have left.

Q.

Did the Iraqi foreign minister reiterate his demands for what he calls justice and fairness for the Palestinians? And was there any wavering in the U.S. position, as you may have expressed it to him, that the two issues are not related, or not linked?

A.

There was no change in our position, which is that the two issues are not linked. I did make the point that I don't think many people believe that Iraq invaded Kuwait in order to help the Palestinians, and, if they did, it was another miscalculation because it hasn't helped the Palestinians. I think most people believe that Iraq invaded Kuwait for Iraq's own aggrandizement, and I think most people realize that Iraq is trying to use the Palestinian issue to shield its aggression against Kuwait. . . . And I made the point as well that rewarding Iraq's aggression with a link to the Arab-Israeli peace process would really send a terrible signal, not only to genuine peacemakers in the region, but also to other would-be aggressors. . . .

Q.

Are you willing, is the United States willing to talk again to Iraq before the January 15th deadline? And did you discuss with the president the possibility that you may still go to Baghdad?

A.

I had already discussed that with President Bush, and I had already told you what our view was, and the president himself, I think, said there will be no trip to Baghdad. The proposal which he originally made was in effect rejected by Iraq. We offered 15 separate days; they continued to insist upon only one, the 12th of January, which we think was and still is an obvious effort to avoid the deadline of January the 15th. We're not interested in that. We think this deadline is real, and our coalition partners think the deadline is real.

Q.

Could you give us a sense of how the discussions evolved over . . . six hours? What did you begin with? What did he counter with? Why did you feel it necessary after two hours to call the president?

A.

Well, we broke for lunch. And I think this meeting is sufficiently important that I should call the president, so I did, just as I did as soon as we were finished. But I began by saying that I was here not to negotiate but to communicate . . . that I was here for a serious dialogue in an effort to find a political and peaceful solution, but that they should not expect that we would be prepared to walk backwards from U.N. Security Council resolutions. . . . But let me say that I talked to him about how we saw the situation; about the history of the Security Council resolutions; about what I thought could happen in the event of observance of those resolutions and what I feared would happen in the event of Iraq's nonobservance of those resolutions.

Q.

{If Iraqi withdrawal} begins by January 15th, will the United States guarantee there will be no military attack on Iraq?

A.

Let me say I assured the minister that if they implement the United Nations resolutions, and if they withdraw from Kuwait and permit the restoration of the legitimate government of Kuwait, that I could assure him there would be no military action by the United States and that I felt that there would . . . be no military action by any other elements of the international coalition.

Q.

Mr. Secretary, in the remaining six days before the U.N. deadline, would you welcome an initiative by some other European allies or even Arab countries, such as Algeria . . . ?

A.

Well, this is an international coalition . . . seeking to implement solemn resolutions of the world's peace-keeping and security body. And therefore there might, it seems to me, be some useful purpose served by perhaps the secretary general's good offices. But I said last night, and I have said for months, we welcome any and all diplomatic efforts to solve this crisis peacefully and politically.

Q.

Mr. Secretary, can you tell us, you keep saying you saw no indication of flexibility. Did the foreign minister actually tell you that Iraq intends to keep Kuwait and will not withdraw from Kuwait.

A.

He did not make that statement, but he did not indicate that there was any chance that they would withdraw. . . .

Q.

Mr. Secretary, what did you tell the foreign minister about the willingness of the American people to go to war and the impact of political pressure on the president's decision-making?

A.

I said don't miscalculate the resolve of the American people, who are very slow to anger but who believe strongly in principle, and that we should not reward aggression, and that big countries with powerful military machines should not be permitted to invade, occupy and brutalize peaceful neighbors.

Q.

Mr. Secretary, you've told us what you didn't hear. . . . Could you tell us what you did hear? Did you hear justifications from the foreign minister?

A.

I heard some things that I quite frankly found very hard to believe. . . . For instance, that their action in invading Kuwait was defensive in nature, that they were being threatened by Kuwait. And I will tell you the same thing I told the minister, which is, I find it very hard to believe that any nation in the world will believe that.

Q.

Did the foreign minister suggest Iraq might withdraw from Kuwait if there were linkage, as let us say, the French have suggested, or others have suggested? And if he did, is linkage -- the principle of linkage and the insistence on that principle -- a reason for the loss of lots of lives?

A.

Well, I don't think he said that explicitly. I think perhaps it was implicit in his comments. . . . But it's more than just the principle of linkage. . . . There would have to be agreement to conferences and that sort of thing that get you beyond just the simple fact of linkage.

Q.

You made it clear that you were not going to Baghdad, but did you and the foreign minister talk about future diplomatic contacts at your level between the United States and Iraq? Or did this one meeting represent the conclusion of diplomatic initiatives by the United States?

A.

Well, we will maintain our diplomatic contacts through our charge' in Baghdad until the 12th of January. I asked for, and received, the personal assurance of the minister that Joe Wilson and the four other Americans in our embassy there will be permitted to leave Baghdad on the 12th of January and will not be restrained from so doing.

Q.

Your mood, if I may say, seems pretty somber at this point. Can you kind of describe your state of mind and your mood after what has occurred today?

A.

Somber.

Q.

Somber?

A.

You got it.

Q.

Can you tell us now about the letter from President Bush? Was it in fact in Arabic, what was the tone of it? Did it contain graphic military scenarios intended to intimidate?

A.

I regret to inform you that the minister chose not to receive the letter from President Bush. He read it very slowly and very carefully. But he would not accept it, nor would the Iraqi embassy in Washington accept an Arabic courtesy translation. . . . My own opinion . . . was that he came here not authorized to accept a letter, that they walked away from the United Nations resolutions, which is something that we cannot, and of course will not do.