Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev persuaded his American opposite number to support the USSR’s proposed peace plan for Saddam Hussein over Kuwait in 1990.
The secret transcript of the meeting between the two presidents at a summit in Helsinki in September 1990 shows how George Bush senior was initially sceptical about Gorbachev’s proposed peace plan, especially the Soviet proposal to allow Iraq’s then leader to link his forces’ withdrawal from Kuwait to the fraught issue of Palestine.
Gorbachev said that he thought Saddam would reject the plan, at least initially, but the American president is recorded as replying: “I think he will accept this plan, even jump on it. But the majority of the world would consider it to be our great defeat. After all, he would manage to shift the focus of the situation. He would manage to link it to the Israeli-Palestinian problem, and that is exactly what he wants.
Saddam would like to link his aggression with the Arab-Israeli problem
George Bush senior speaking to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990
“That problem has remained unsolved for years, and we cannot allow the Iraqi aggression to be linked to that problem.”
“If the plan leaving the Kuwaiti issue open to some extent were adopted, it would be a great defeat for the United Nations, a blow on the new world order.”
Gorbachev is said to have replied: “But the heart, the benchmark of the plan is the suggestion that Iraq should withdraw from Kuwait.”
“The present Kuwaiti dynasty would be restored as Iraq would have to negotiate financial and economic issues with it; as for the prospects, they are the problem of the Kuwaiti people who would settle their internal affairs themselves.”
From the transcript, this seemed to make Bush think again about the proposal. He asked: “Do you mean elections?”
Bush: “Yes, given that, I think Saddam would reject such a plan. Of course, he would like to link his aggression with the Arab-Israeli problem. But he has put too much stake on capturing Kuwait, and he would not want to lose the fruits of his aggression.
“I want to assure you once again: we are for a peaceful solution.”
Gorbachev: “So, let’s think over this plan, consider scenarios, so to speak. Many considerations expressed by Arabs themselves, particularly Maghreb and other countries, are taken into account here.
“I am firmly convinced of one thing. It would be mad to launch a military action against Iraq unless it makes any new military steps itself.”
Bush: “You are right. But, as I have mentioned, Saddam is now energetically destroying Kuwait.”
“But if he agrees to this plan, though he has to withdraw from Kuwait and current Kuwaiti leaders are restored to power, he also achieves a conference on the Palestinian problem and withdrawal of American troops.”
Gorbachev: “Once the Iraqi forces are withdrawn from Kuwait, American forces would be withdrawn gradually and replaced with inter-Arab forces, but only when international guarantees are provided.”
Bush was only prepared to back Gorbachev’s plan if their agreement was kept secret.
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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