Secretary of State James A. Baker III proposed yesterday that a multinational Middle East reconstruction bank be created after the Persian Gulf War to help rebuild the region and ease the underlying disparities in wealth that helped create the conflict.
Baker also gave his strongest endorsement so far to the idea of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East, but he said it would be difficult to achieve and could not be imposed from the outside.
In testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Baker said the "vast majority" of the funds would come from the wealthy states in the region and not U.S. taxpayers. Baker reiterated that war-ravaged Iraq would have to be rebuilt after the war but said the job would be easier if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein were no longer in power.
He repeatedly emphasized to the panel, however, that the alliance has not expanded its war aims to include toppling Saddam, as some senators urged.
"Saddam Hussein must be removed from a position of leadership in Iraq," said Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.). "This does not mean that he should be killed, assassinated, bombed, chased. This simply means that the conclusion of our efforts ought to be a disconnect between Saddam Hussein and leadership."
Baker replied that "there's no suggestion on our part that the rebuilding or reconstruction of Iraq could proceed if the current leadership of Iraq remained in power" to the same degree as before. If Saddam remains in power, Baker said, the allies may have to impose continuing arms and economic sanctions on Iraq that would be far different from rebuilding Iraq if Saddam is not in power.
Although Baker did not provide details about the bank concept, other officials have said it could be a mechanism to address the enormous economic inequities in the region between the oil rich states such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and the poorer ones. In the past, the rich countries have parceled out grants to their needy neighbors, often arbitrarily, but the policy-makers hope to go well beyond this informal system after the war.
Some analysts have noted in particular the resentment that was felt by other Arabs toward Kuwait before the Aug. 2 Iraqi invasion because the rich emirate moved much of its wealth to Europe and the United States. These analysts have said Saddam's plundering of Kuwait had resonance in the Arab world because of this resentment.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), who last month proposed the creation of a Middle East development bank, said it would help provide hope to poorer Arab states that the region would not simply revert to its previous disparities after the conflict. Without such hope, Biden said recently, "I fear the instincts of fundamentalism, the religious rivalries, the Western antagonism, all will take flight in such a way which will cause us to lose support during the war and in maintaining the peace. . . . "
Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) suggested that the financing effort would demonstrate "that we're not only willing to shoot and bomb people in the name of justice but to help them in the name of justice. And the more . . . we can do that, I think, the better off we are."
Baker said "there ought to be some American leadership" in setting up the bank after the war, "but I'm not suggesting that we pick up a tab."
On the nuclear-free zone idea, which has been advocated by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the Soviet leadership, Baker said "we have supported and do support" it. Israel is the region's sole nuclear power, and Baker had said previously that the United States could not force it to comply. Yesterday, Baker said Israel had expressed interest in the idea.