The Iraqi Embassy, seeking to influence U.S. public opinion any way it can, has played host to a delegation of Midwestern farm leaders and urged them to carry a message to Capitol Hill that "every issue is negotiable" in the Persian Gulf conflict.
Five leaders of the American Agriculture Movement (AAM), the group that has organized several marches on Washington with tractors and farm trucks to protest low farm incomes, were invited to meet for several hours last week with Iraqi Ambassador Mohamed Mashat and aides. They then visited offices of Kansas and Nebraska congressional delegation members, passing on the conciliatory message they had heard from their hosts.
The unusual venture into domestic politics and public relations began Nov. 9 when an Iraqi Embassy aide phoned Alvin Jenkins, a Coloradan and head of the AAM. "He wanted to know," Jenkins recalled in a telephone interview yesterday, "if I and my neighbor, Eugene Schroeder, a co-founder of AAM, would be interested and willing to help start a dialogue between his country and ours. It seemed pretty far out, but I told him I would do anything I could to prevent a war."
Jenkins said he assumes the Iraqis had picked up his name from his AAM activities and "knew I was a strong believer in the Constitution and the idea that only Congress can declare war. I think they picked a group from the heartland of America which doesn't put party above patriotism."
After checking out his caller's credentials, Jenkins said they accepted plane tickets from the Iraqis and spent four hours the day before Thanksgiving with the ambassador and others.
Jenkins said the second visit, with a five-member delegation that included Ed Petrowsky, a Kansas AAM leader, last week was self-financed. "We drove 31 hours to get there," Jenkins said.
The Iraqis said that "they had been the No. 1 buyer of American rice and second-largest wheat buyer and said they'd like to buy again," Jenkins said. But mainly, he said the Iraqis wanted "to present their side of the story."
Jenkins stressed that he had kept the State Department and members of the Colorado and Kansas congressional delegations informed of the contacts and had passed on the word that the Iraqis said "every issue is negotiable."
In addition to the meetings on Capitol Hill, Jenkins said, "we've contacted hundreds of farmers" to let them know about the Iraqi position.
He said he was aware of the risks. "It's one of those deals, where if you don't walk an awful straight line, somebody will accuse you of being a Jane Fonda and helping the other side. I don't want that. I'm an American, but if I could somehow relay a message that would prevent bloodshed, that's the greatest honor I could have."