News


Tracking Number:  173508

Title:  "Bush Calls Soviet Proposals 'Useful;' Allies Continue War Plans." President stated that various "serious concerns" about the peace proposal remain. (910222)

Author:  DOWD, MAUREEN
Source:  NEW YORK TIMES (NYT) (NEWSPAPER), Feb 22, p A1
Date:  19910222

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The following article by Maureen Dowd, headlined "Bush Calls Soviet Proposals 'Useful;' Allies Continue War

GE 2 UNCLASSIFIED Plans," appeared on page A-1 of the February 22 New York Times:

(BEGIN TEXT)

Washington -- President Bush told President Mikhail S. Gorbachev on Thursday night that his quest for peace in the Persian Gulf was "useful" but said he had "serious concerns" about the Soviet proposal for Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait.

Choosing his words carefully, the White House spokesman, Marlin Fitzwater, said the United States would study the proposal, consult with its allies and shape a response.

"The United States and its coalition partners continue to prosecute the war," Fitzwater said.

He indicated that planning for a ground war was continuing despite what he called the "intensive pace" of the Soviet mediation effort.

GE 3 UNCLASSIFIED

But Fitzwater was careful not to rule out the possibility that Bush's 33-minute telephone conversation with Gorbachev could be the prelude to a resolution of the gulf crisis.

"After a serious examination there have been significant problems, and certainly the President has indicated there could well be some difficulties here," he said. "But we are taking a look at it."

Among the administration's objections to the Soviet proposal are provisions that would begin lifting the United Nations sanctions against Iraq when a withdrawal was only two-thirds complete and would nullify all of the U.N. resolutions after the withdrawal ended.

The administration wants to keep some sanctions in effect, notably an embargo on arms trade with Iraq, and to enforce a resolution that would require Iraq to pay reparations to Kuwait.

Should the United States eventually agree to a negotiated peace, it is certain to impose as short a time limit as possible on an Iraqi withdrawal in hopes of

GE 4 UNCLASSIFIED preventing Saddam from moving his battalions of tanks, artillery and missiles back into Iraq.

The idea is to leave him with as little of his vast military arsenal as possible after the war ends.

And, for that reason, the United States can be expected to continue its bombing while diplomacy takes it course.

The tone of the White House response was markedly more positive than its reaction to two earlier peace initiatives.

Last Friday, Saddam said he was prepared to "deal with" the first U.N. resolution demanding his withdrawal from Kuwait, but only under a series of conditions that included a conference on the Palestinian issue, an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and payments by the allied forces to rebuild Iraq.

Bush denounced that offer as "a cruel hoax" and "dead on arrival."

On Monday, Bush received the first Soviet proposal for an end to the gulf war.

GE 5 UNCLASSIFIED

He said it "falls well short of what would be required" because it contained references to a conference on the Palestinians and guarantees of Iraq's territorial integrity. It also did not offer a specific timetable for withdrawal.

Fitzwater said Bush would consult with the members of the anti-Iraq alliance about the new proposal.

The president left to go to Ford's Theater on Thursday night to see "Black Eagles," a play about black pilots during World War II, while his advisers conferred on the offer.

Fitzwater said that the United States was still insisting on full compliance with all 12 United Nations resolutions on Kuwait.

Some of the demands set by the United Nations were not mentioned in the Soviet proposal, including the stipulation that Iraq annul its annexation of Kuwait.

He said there was no specific agreement for a "follow- on procedure" between the United States and the Soviet

GE 6 UNCLASSIFIED Union but made it clear that Moscow and Washington would remain in close contact.

Administration officials who were studying the proposal Thursday night said that it still fell "pretty far short" of stated allied goals.

They said they wanted to avoid a situation in which Saddam escaped "without paying any real price for having invaded Kuwait."

They see the Iraqi leader on the ropes, militarily speaking, and a decisive victory within reach.

Earlier in the day, Saddam delivered what the administration initially considered to be a defiant speech on Baghdad Radio indicating that he would press on with the war if Bush did not agree to Iraq's conditions for pulling its forces out of Kuwait.

Saddam gave no details about these conditions in his speech.

Only a few hours later, Bush and his top advisers gathered in the Oval Office to study the Iraqi-Soviet peace proposal, which calls for Iraq to begin withdrawing from

GE 7 UNCLASSIFIED Kuwait two days after a cease-fire and provides for an exchange of prisoners of war.

There was no mention in tonight's agreement of a conference on the Palestinian issue, which was a major element of the initial Soviet proposal that Bush rejected so forcefully on Monday.

Fitzwater said that Gorbachev telephoned Bush after meeting with the Iraqi foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, at 6:47 p.m Washington time, and that the two leaders spoke for 33 minutes.

The Pentagon said Thursday night that U.S. forces would continue to fight until they receive orders for a cease-fire from the White House.

Pentagon officials said privately that they were opposed to any cease-fire before a complete Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait because it could be dangerous for allied forces.

"The military operation will continue," a Pentagon official said. "We've had no order to do otherwise."

GE 8 UNCLASSIFIED

That left the military poised on the verge of a ground war which, according to administration officials and diplomats, would begin with an assault on Iraq's defensive lines in southern Kuwait by U.S. Marines and Arab forces, along with a flanking attack by the U.S. Army directly toward the Republican guards dug in on the north side of Kuwait.

The apparent success of the Soviet mediation effort created a potential dilemma for Bush because the agreement, as initially outlined by the Kremlin, did not address several issues that the White House had been saying all week were essential to a political settlement of the war.

Not only did it fail to address the Administration's insistence that any cease-fire agreement require Iraq to immediately annul its annexation of Kuwait; the agreement seemingly does not call for abiding by U.N. resolutions requiring the restoration of the deposed Emir of Kuwait and the payment by Iraq of reparations to the sheikdom.

Congressional leaders had observed that if Saddam agreed to withdraw from Kuwait without getting any major

GE 9 UNCLASSIFIED concessions, it would put Bush in a painful box: He might have to go along or risk being seen as unreasonably extending the war.

But administration officials said the danger was that such a resolution could allow Saddam to continue with enough political and military strength intact that he would remain in power with plenty of oil money to rebuild his air force and army.

The reaction in Washington, at the United Nations and around the world ranged from hopeful to skeptical, as officials tried to learn the details of the peace plan.

"Let's be very certain we've examined it carefully," said Bob Dole, the leader of the Senate's Republican minority, on the floor Thursday night.

"Let's remember that the Soviet Union has only been an observer in this process. They haven't contributed any materiel or any young men or young women to the gulf coalition forces. And let's remember that Saddam Hussein may be playing a stalling game."

GE 10 UNCLASSIFIED

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., was more optimistic. "It sounds like this may be what we're looking for, Saddam getting out without condition," he said.

The sudden turn of events in Moscow followed a day in which Washington had been consumed by a growing sense that the Soviet mediation would fall through and that a ground war was, as one senior Arab diplomat put it this afternoon, "damn close."

The pessimistic mood had been reinforced by the Bush administration's response to Saddam radio address, in which the Iraqi leader said that his army of occupation was prepared for a land war if Bush continued to reject Iraq's conditions for peace.

The administration reacted by warning that it was moving ahead with plans for one of the largest ground attacks in modern history.

Bush took Saddam's speech as a signal that "he intends to continue the war," said Fitzwater.

But the address on Baghdad Radio, couched in heroic and vague language and laced with quotations from the

GE 11 UNCLASSIFIED Koran, seemed more indirect and less categorical than the administration's reading of it.

It appeared to be directed primarily trying to push the administration into a negotiated settlement.

In retrospect, it seemed to be Saddam's attempt to lay the groundwork for a claim that he had defied the enormous military arsenal assembled against him.

"O, brothers, O people, note how those who feared a ground battle have now avoided the showdown for over a month," Saddam said.

He accused the allies of "killing civilians and destroying property with their long-range aircraft and missiles" and added, "They are doing this to cover up their inability to confront our land forces in southern Iraq."

The speech described the war as a "conflict between Iraq -- as a bastion of faith and honorable aspiration and Zionism and U.S. imperialism."

It included a litany of complaints about "what Zionism and U.S. imperialism have done against Iraq, beginning with the Irangate plot or the Iran-Contra scandal in 1986."

GE 12 UNCLASSIFIED

It also attacked other Arab leaders, including King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, who Saddam said "chews his words like a camel chews the grasses."

After listening to Saddam's speech in the morning, the White House dismissed it as "the same invective and disregard for the United Nations mandate that we have heard so often since Aug. 2."

Bush listened to the speech by saddam in his study off the Oval Office, then studied a translation of it with his national security advisers.

"We read the words very carefully," Fitzwater said, adding that the administration's initial impression was that Saddam "intends to continue the war."

Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that the United States was on course for "one of the largest land assaults of modern times."

Reflecting the mood in the capital, a senior Arab diplomat said at mid-afternoon that Saddam's speech was self-destructive and certain to set off a ground war.

GE 13 UNCLASSIFIED

The diplomat called the speech "music to my ears" because he thought it was the death knell for hopes of peace before a ground war.

He said he had been concerned that the coalition would accept a political settlement between the Soviets and Iraqis that left too much of Saddam's power intact.

The debate over the terms for a withdrawal centers on what kind of military Iraq should have after the Persian Gulf crisis, one strong enough that might allow Saddam to exert his power regionally in the future, or one so weakened and humiliated that its leadership, perhaps allied with opposition forces, would be tempted to overthrow Saddam.

U.S. military officials said it could take weeks for Iraq to withdraw the hundreds of thousands of troops occupying Kuwait as part of an overall 540,000-member army that extends into southern Iraq.

An Army tank expert expressed doubt whether Iraqi forces could start the engines and start moving many of its top-of-the-line Soviet tanks, that have spent months buried

GE 14 UNCLASSIFIED deeply in sand berms with little or no preventative maintenance.

An allied demand for Iraqi troops to leave Kuwait in a matter of a few days -- the Soviet plan unveiled today includes an unspecified time limit -- would force them to abandon thousands of pieces of heavy armored equipment that would cost billions of dollars to replace, military officials said.

"If he has to leave fast, he can't take all that with him," one White House official said. Asked how could such a large army could leave Kuwait on such a rapid schedule, given the devastation to roads, bridges and basic supplies like food, the official replied, "With their shoes on."

An administration official, acknowledging that the United Nations mandate did not provide for stripping Iraq of its military equipment, said:

"If he keeps that equipment, it could affect our ability to rebuild the peace and stability in the gulf, which is one of the objectives of the U.N. resolutions."

(END TEXT)

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File Identification:  02/22/91, NE-U02
Product Name:  USINFO
Product Code:  US
Keywords:  BUSH, GEORGE/Foreign Relations: Near East & South Asia; PERSIAN GULF WAR; PEACE PROPOSALS; USSR-US RELATIONS
Document Type:  REP
Thematic Codes:  1UR; 1NE
Target Areas:  NE
PDQ Text Link:  173508