Uncovered: US bid for peace with Saddam over Kuwait
Bush Snr secretly agreed Soviet plan to avert first Gulf War, say hidden papers
I would not like to send the others a message that we are working on this problem together
George Bush senior speaking privately to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990
America secretly took part in an audacious Soviet plan to strike a peace deal with Saddam Hussein to head off war with Iraq in 1990.
The plan is revealed in top secret documents unearthed by Exaro from a huge Soviet archive that has been smuggled to the West. They show that the then Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, presented to America at a top-level summit his proposed plan to seek Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait in return for concessions over the Israel-Palestine conflict.
And George Bush, then US president, reluctantly approved an attempt to secure the then Iraqi leader’s agreement to the deal, according to the newly uncovered papers.
A transcript of a meeting in Helsinki between the American and Soviet leaders in September 1990 shows that Bush agreed to Gorbachev trying to “sound out” Saddam, then Iraq’s president, about the deal that would have stopped the outbreak of the Gulf War of 1990-1991.
Bush is recorded as telling Gorbachev: “It would be very constructive if you, with your history of relations with Iraq, could sound him out somehow.”
The document, part of an archive of more than 50,000 pages, remains top secret in Russia, and features in a book, ‘Behind the Desert Storm’, written by the author of this article and due to be published this summer. The US president was initially sceptical about Gorbachev’s peace plan, but was persuaded to pursue it. Bush also agreed with Gorbachev’s comment that “it would be mad to launch a military action against Iraq unless it makes any new military steps itself.”
Bush insisted on maintaining secrecy to the rest of the world about their partnership over the peace proposal, not wanting it to be presented as a Soviet-American plan. Behind closed doors, he told Gorbachev: “I would not like to send the others a message that we are working on this problem together.”
Bush and Gorbachev issued an unprecedented joint declaration at the summit condemning Iraq over its invasion of Kuwait. They publicly called on Iraq to pull out of Kuwait, restore its “legitimate government, and free all hostages held in Iraq and Kuwait.” But the declaration said nothing about the secret Soviet-American peace plan.
The summit took place the month after Iraq invaded Kuwait. Other documents suggest that Saddam ultimately rejected the peace plan because he would neither agree to keep secret the link between a withdrawal from Kuwait and the Israel-Palestine conflict, nor make a clear promise to exit from Kuwait.
Following the failure of the secret peace plan agreed by Bush and Gorbachev, the US led a military assault on Iraq four months after the Helsinki summit.
The transcript of the meeting between Bush and Gorbachev, written in Russian, does not clearly identify its author. However, from information in the archive, it appears that Gorbachev’s foreign policy adviser, Anatoly Chernyaev, compiled it from his shorthand notes. Exaro has had it translated from Russian into English.
It provides new insight into the extraordinary behind-the-scenes diplomatic moves between the US and USSR over Iraq, and sheds remarkable new light on one of the major events in modern history.
The document is at variance to the account later given by senior American government figures and contrasts with the official version of events, accepted by most historians, that America firmly stuck to its demand of Saddam’s unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait.
Bush also told Gorbachev privately at the summit in Finland’s capital that America would reverse its long-standing policy of trying to block Soviet influence in the Middle East.
Pavel Stroilov is a Russian journalist and political exile living in London, and author of ‘Behind the Desert Storm’. Additional reporting by Alanah Eriksen.