President Bush said he was "going an extra mile" by offering to have Secretary of State James Baker and Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz meet in Geneva. But actually all that may be needed to break the gulf deadlock is United States willingness to give an inch.
In refusing to talk with Iraq about anything except its unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait and the return of the Kuwaiti government, the United States remains committed to a "no compromise" policy. At the same time, the Bush administration is apparently refusing to listen to Iraqi insistence that outstanding regional issues be subject to negotiations. Such negotiations could well lead to a peaceful resolution of the gulf crisis.Iraq has made quite clear what it sees as the two most important regional issues: the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the set of grievances and disputes between itself and Kuwait.
The United States has rightly refused to link efforts to resolve the Iraqi and Israeli occupations, in part because such linkage would so complicate negotiations that neither problem would likely be resolved. If, however, the United States indicated that it is serious about negotiating a resolution to the Israeli-Arab conflicts, the diplomatic logjam in the gulf might be loosened. The Bush administration would have to do very little to start the process.
The United States has already voted for United Nations Security Council Resolution 672, which reaffirmed Resolution 242 on the Israeli-Arab conflict and highlighted the need for "an active negotiating process which takes into account the right to security of all states in the region, including Israel, as well as the legitimate political rights of the Palestinian people."
In the same vein, the United States could actively seek ways to implement the resolution passed unanimously by the U.N. Security Council calling for protection for Palestinians and the statement by the council calling for an international peace conference on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
One way to restart the peace process derailed last summer would be to re-establish the U.S.-PLO dialogue suspended in June. The United States could also join European nations in supporting an international conference on the Middle East. These steps should be taken independently, without linking them to the gulf crisis, but understanding they will improve the atmosphere for diplomacy.
In response to Iraqi grievances and disputes with Kuwait, without retreating from the "no compromise" policy, the Bush administration could actively promote the third part of Security Council Resolution 660, which "calls upon Iraq and Kuwait to begin immediately intensive negotiations for the resolution of their differences, and supports all efforts in this regard, and especially those of the League of Arab States."
In response to such initiatives, Iraq could undertake similar unilateral and simultaneous confidence-building measures. It could, for example, start returning seized Kuwaiti assets. The recent release of the hostages held by Iraq has been widely interpreted as an attempt to divide the anti-Iraq coalition. It can also be seen as a confidence-building gesture which can aid the convening of negotiations.
The next steps could be to try to mediate or negotiate, via third party quiet diplomacy if necessary, reciprocal commitments between the parties. In response to a U.S. commitment to negotiations to resolve the Israeli-Arab conflicts and U.S. acceptance of a process to address Iraqi-Kuwaiti differences, Iraq might agree to withdraw from Kuwait. At that time, the United States could reaffirm Baker's commitment not to attack Iraq once it withdraws. Then, steps could begin to bring in an Arab peacekeeping presence, perhaps under U.N. auspices. Iraq would thereby have met two of the three U.S. demands.
The third demand, that the Kuwaiti government be allowed to return, might also be accepted by Iraq if the Kuwaiti government upon its return from exile reaffirmed its commitment to democratic reforms and elections.