Question: Many Americans are angry and disappointed in you. What do you think they expect of you?
Hussein: Well, I'm sure they probably feel that we have been friends for so many years and therefore they can't understand my position and attitude . . . going along . . . with no regard to their past, their heritage, the interests of their people. I believe every attempt that I made, that any of us made, in this region to eliminate this blood bath, this destruction, was unfortunately blocked. I found a new situation that developed over the last few years. And that is an attitude which I don't believe is becoming of the United States. It is something along the lines of: You are either for us or you are against us.Q: What efforts were made to solve problems between Iraq and Kuwait before the crisis of summer 1990?
Hussein: Over a long period of time - before the end of the war between Iraq and Iran - I had tried my very best to see what could be done. He (Saddam) told me how anxious he was to ensure that the (border dispute) situation was resolved as soon as possible. So he initiated the contacts with the Kuwaitis. Apparently this didn't work from the beginning. There were meetings, but nothing happened. To my way of thinking, this was really puzzling. It was in Kuwait's interest to solve the problem. I know how there wasn't a definite border, how there was always a feeling that Kuwait was a part of Iraq.
Apparently during the Iraq-Iran War, the Kuwaitis crept up into Iraq. The Iraqis claimed that they went up to 60-70 kilometers inside Iraq and began to exploit oil wells as well as to create farms and settlements. The Iraqis did not want to create a problem at that time. So the question of the border - where is the border? It is something that has never been defined.
Q: At the end of the Iran-Iraq War, were you given any indications that Saddam Hussein had territorial aspirations?
Hussein: I never heard any of that directly. But I heard from many (Western) friends who passed through the area, and they were told by various leaders of Arab gulf states - even the Saudis - they were worried about Iraq's strength; that Iraq was a possible threat to them. But I went and brought this question up with every single one of them: "Look, had this country not defended you (from Iran) these last many years, the whole situation would be different. Their strength is for you. Why this attitude? If you have any doubts or suspicions, why not bring them out in the open?" Unfortunately the seeds were there.
Q: Who planted those seeds of suspicion?
Hussein: Later we discovered there was a theory of a Jordanian-Iraqi-Yemeni conspiracy to divide the spoils, which are Saudi Arabia and the gulf states. Nonsense. My conviction is they (Arab leaders) wouldn't have believed (these stories) unless there was a foreign input. I am sure there are some foreign intelligence agencies that must have given them the impressions.
Q: When did you first become alarmed about the Iraqi-Kuwaiti problem?
Hussein: The Arab Summit meeting in the spring of 1990. That was the first time in a closed meeting (that) Saddam Hussein spoke frankly about the very serious situation developing between Iraq, Kuwait and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) over the selling of oil. Dumping it onto the market was causing them (Iraqis) enormous difficulties. They were barely able to produce a budget that year. The Iraqi people could not understand why, after years of war, their condition continued to deteriorate . . . and that the drop of every dollar in the price of oil was causing them a billion-dollar loss (per year).
Q: What happened next?
Hussein: There was this buildup. The attitude of Saddam was one of extreme anger and that, "Well, we're going to have to resolve this (oil) problem. We can't explain to our people what their condition is and what causes it. But we believe there is a conspiracy against us." So everything was hinging on the meeting that was to take place in Jiddah (July 31, 1990).
Q: Did you have a feeling that Saddam eventually might invade?
Hussein: I honestly didn't imagine that he'd do that, against the background of his making a position at the summit in Morocco. He reiterated that no Arab state should pose a threat to another, that no Arab state should interfere with the internal affairs of another.
Q: You seem convinced that this war resulted from a long-range U.S.-British policy to weaken Iraq and Iran economically and allow a U.S.-organized gulf security force to control events in the region for decades. Is that a fair representation and if so, why?
Hussein: Yes. I believe it is. Unfortunately, I've been convinced for a while that there was no effort to dialogue, no effort to reach a diplomatic solution and that there was preparation, from the word "go," for war.
Q: It has been reported that on July 28, the White House showed little concern over a CIA briefing that Iraq might be ready to invade Kuwait. A few days later, Saddam Hussein was equated with Adolf Hitler. Did someone seize the opportunity?
Hussein: (Former British prime minister Margaret) Thatcher was very influential. (After the king's refusal to vote to condemn Iraq's invasion) I received a very strong message from Thatcher, speaking of the president's disappointment . . . with the kind of language that I wasn't used to from anybody. (Later) we had one of the rowdiest discussions that I ever have had with anybody. She was very strong on her side and so was I . . . very strong language . But one thing came out. She said U.S. troops were halfway to their destination before the request arrived.
Q: What was Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's role?
Hussein: Mubarak broke a confidence given him by Saddam Hussein. He (Saddam) said, "I told him (Mubarak) in complete confidence that I was hoping their (the Iraqi troops') presence (on the Kuwaiti border) would act as a source of pressure on the Kuwaitis to help resolve this problem and that we were hoping for the Jiddah meeting to succeed. Please don't tell the Kuwaitis."
So Mubarak went and told the Kuwaitis about the troops - that there was no danger about their being used. I believe he told the Saudis, and he told the media, and he told President Bush. At best, it could have been a terrible miscommunication; at worst - it went beyond that in any event because . . . he was told by Saddam not to tell anyone. He created the wrong impression. Mubarak said Saddam lied, and he abused a confidence. This was the "big lie" (of Saddam) that had worldwide effect.
Q: How did you find out about the invasion? And why didn't Saddam withdraw in a few days as expected?
Hussein: King Fahd (of Saudi Arabia) called about 5 a.m. He said, "Have you heard what happened? Can you reach Saddam and tell him to stop? Tell him to get back to the disputed area and stay there." Fahd was strong in his language, not only about the Iraqi move but also about the Kuwaiti leadership (for) their intransigence and lack of flexibility. After Saddam said, "We had to go in," I told him it was serious. He said, "Please, you know us very well. You know the best way to deal with us is neither through threats nor intimidation. We are committed to withdrawal from Kuwait. It will begin in the next few days and end up in a period of weeks and we are ready for a dialogue."
I told Mubarak to please let no resolution (of condemnation) come up at the meeting (of Arab foreign ministers on Aug. 3). I went to Baghdad . . . got a date for withdrawal (Aug. 5). I landed here and had the media waiting for me. I said I'd achieved a breakthrough. Then I (got) a call from our foreign minister in Cairo. (He said:) "Unfortunately, Mubarak himself had been telling this statement against Iraq and furthermore the Arab League is about to pass a resolution condemning Iraq."
Q: This has been called the first American-Arab war. But that term implies racism. How do you see this?
Hussein: I believe it is most unfortunate that this has happened, and I believe it will leave a very bitter taste that is going to be there for a long time. People of great responsibility in the Arab world have allowed this to happen. Relations should be based on mutual respect and the will and general desire to cooperate, (but) that hasn't been the case in the recent past.
Q: What is Jordan's position on the occupation of Kuwait?
Hussein: We were against the occupation of Kuwait and the annexation of Kuwait, just as we were against the occupations and annexations of the West Bank and Gaza, the Golan Heights, southern Lebanon - as we have been against the occupation of a part of Cyprus, as we've been against occupation of part of the Falklands. On principle, our side has never changed in any of these instances. This is what the United Nations was intended to be. The people of this region have to live together in peace. That is not easily achievable by destroying a country, by further abuse. We are very worried and concerned that we are entering an area of instability, general instability in the entire region . . . with regard to the people who permitted this to happen. The destruction of the links and ties between Arab peoples that have lasted longer than the last span of leaders and hopefully will last way beyond this one.
Q: You and Yasser Arafat have had an off-again, on-again relationship for years. Do you think he can emerge from this with the credibility to represent the Palestinian people at a Middle East peace conference?
Hussein: Only the Palestinians can determine that. I believe the Palestinians must be involved with the solving of the Palestinian-Israeli dimension of the problem. The peace conference will involve all of the participants in the region. I believe this will happen.
Q: Various Arab leaders have been defenders of the Palestinian cause at different times - Nasser, Assad, Saddam Hussein. What are the chances that after this war King Hussein of Jordan will emerge as the chief advocate for the Palestinians?
Hussein: I feel that I always have been for them, sir.
Q: You and your associates continued to trust the United States right up to the last minute, even though, through all of your years, you had worries about conflicting U.S. motives in the Middle East?
Hussein: Well, there may be doubts, but you don't just stop there. Our friendship (with the United States) started in the 1950s. We tried to do what was possible to influence events in a positive way. I think one of the basic problems, with regard to American policies, is an attempt at crisis management. What is lacking is . . . long-range policies to deal with problems.
Q: It seems clear that Jordan is being punished from pillar to post for its position, including the bombing of trucks on the Baghdad-to-Amman highway. This pressure may continue in the postwar period. Is the stand worth the sacrifice?
Hussein: Well, the casualties (that) were sustained . . . the embargo, a state of siege that we have faced, is a social blow of obvious pain. (But) regarding the United States, the advice we have given and positions we have tried to adopt will eventually prove to be in the interests of the United States in the long term - and I hope to be associated with it.
1991, MICHAEL EMERY
Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate