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Gorbachev’s peace plan for Saddam over Kuwait

Moscow wanted to link the Israel-Palestine conflict to a peace deal with Saddam Hussein to secure Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait in 1990.

The then Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, sought to persuade his American counterpart, George Bush senior, of his ambitious peace plan, according to the secret transcript of a meeting between them at a summit in Helsinki in September 1990.

Gorbachev told Bush: “You’ve mentioned that Saddam Hussein wanted to put all the problems in one pile, to link the Arab-Israeli conflict, Palestine, Lebanon. It is so, and he scores on it. It is necessary to face the fact that the problem of Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands is sensitive. Therefore, we find it necessary to knock this card out of his hands, and play it in our common interest. You probably thought of it, too.”

This plan seems acceptable to many Arabs

Mikhail Gorbachev speaking to George Bush senior in 1990

He outlined what he wanted to propose to the then Iraqi president: “The problem of restoring the independence of Kuwait and other regional problems including the Palestinian and Lebanese issues could be discussed at an international conference with the [United Nations] security council members and Arab states.

“But they should start from the problem of Kuwaiti independence. The conference might also discuss the issue of establishing a system of security guaranteed by the Soviet Union and the United States, by the five permanent members of the security council.

“It should be mentioned that European capitals express some interest in this idea, bring forward parallel proposals. If Israel agreed to take part in such a conference, not at the first, but probably at the second stage, perhaps we would be able to re-establish diplomatic relations with Israel to compensate.

“This plan seems acceptable to many Arabs. Of course, Saddam Hussein may reject the idea of troop withdrawal. But, since we connect it to the discussion on the problem of Palestine and the Arab lands, then public opinion would blame him for the continued Israeli occupation and the lost opportunity to solve this problem. It would show to Palestinians and all Arabs that he was just exploiting this problem for his own benefits.”

“We believe that such an approach would allow us to snap up the initiative, to deprive Saddam of his aura of hero of the Arab nation, of the image points he is scoring in the Arab world.

“If Saddam accepts this plan, a comprehensive solution would become possible. But, most probably, Saddam will reject this plan, at least at the beginning.

“Anyway, once this or another such proposal is put forward, you and we will be viewed in a different light, as true advocates of a political solution. Yes, we have shown determination and solidarity in condemning the aggression. But, at the same time, we are giving a chance.

“We knock Saddam Hussein out of his current position, from which he can gain certain dividends. We are protecting the UN resolutions and everything we have already achieved, but also allow the new process to begin.”

Bush reluctantly agreed to Gorbachev’s attempt to secure a peace deal with Saddam.

Pavel Stroilov is a Russian journalist and political exile living in London, and author of ‘Behind the Desert Storm. Additional reporting by Alanah Eriksen.

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