After talking directly with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and others in Baghdad during a humanitarian mission, from which I returned with almost 200 hostages, I am even more convinced than before that efforts for non-military solutions should not be abandoned. On the contrary, efforts toward a peaceful settlement should be increased.
Linking the future of Kuwait to lasting solutions of other regional conflicts is part of Saddam's thinking, but I cannot confirm that the Iraqi president regards such a link as a precondition for "sacrifices" he may have to make. No doubt, moving in the direction of U.N. Resolution 660, which calls for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait, is urgent. And Saddam seems to understand by now that foreign hostages are no shield against the military option; on the contrary, their release is an indispensable prerequisite for a peaceful option.Since the United Nations is not in a position to negotiate, and since powers from outside the region also lack the necessary positive image among Arab nations, there is good reason to support the idea of an immediate Arab summit. On the agenda for solving the gulf crisis should be a timetable for:
- The withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait and their replacement with transitional forces from member states of the Arab League.
- A plebiscite in Kuwait under U.N. auspices.
- Harbor access for Iraq to the Persian Gulf.
- Arbitration on the income from the disputed oil fields.
- Agreement between Iraq and Kuwait to consult on fair oil prices and quotas.
With respect to security and cooperation for the Middle East at large, lessons learned from the CSCE process might nurture peace in that region, too, provided the interests of all actors in the Middle East are properly taken into account. I found that the Iraqi leadership understood quite well the new post-Cold War international thinking on security issues. Indeed, they expressed interest in the Helsinki approach of negotiating the set of issues that might lead to peace in separate but interrelated "baskets."
In my conversations the Iraqi leadership acknowledged the long journey toward peace in the Middle East can start only after Baghdad proves its willingness to compromise on Kuwait. They likewise understand that in view of the grave conflicts from Cyprus to Afghanistan, more issues must be on the agenda than just Palestine, Lebanon and the gulf region. Further issues needing to be addressed include:
- How to accommodate the Kurdish people, who constitute one of the major ethnic problems reaching beyond existing boundaries.
- How to stop the regional arms race, especially the control of arms of mass destruction.
- And last, but not least, how to bridge the regional divide between rich and poor countries, through the use of the considerable income from oil for economic development.
If the present military confrontation should lead to war, we can not only forget this agenda, but also any prospect of stability in the Middle East. The region is a "powder keg" filled with sophisticated and horrifying weapons of all kinds supplied by both East and West. One need only recall the last gulf war, in which more than 1 million people were killed, to imagine the kind of conflagration that might occur in the region again. And who can believe in the instant success of an American-led "blitzkrieg" if even the commanding U.S. generals don't? Who can guarantee that a limited war will not escalate into a regional war that could destroy the oil-fields and Israel, too?
While I agree that putting pressure on Iraq is warranted, I remember well the warning of the Palme Commission that any modern military buildup includes the risk of war by sheer accident.
Therefore, my advice to all parties involved: Give more time to let the U.N. sanctions work. Iraq cannot survive for long without commodity imports and without oil exports. Iraq is not South Africa; its economic collapse will be within sight in months, not years.
In the meantime, all efforts should be oriented toward peaceful solutions. I sincerely hope the endeavors by Soviet and Arab envoys will continue, and I am convinced the concern of the American people will be heard in Washington.
1990, New Perspectives Quarterly.
Dist. by Los Angeles Times Syndicate