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Saddam rejected US-Soviet peace plan over Kuwait

America and the Soviet Union failed with their secret peace plan to avert the war with Iraq over Kuwait after Saddam Hussein rejected it.

Following US president George Bush senior’s secret agreement to a Soviet attempt to “sound out” the then Iraqi president over the possible deal, the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, sent his chief foreign-policy adviser, Yevgeny Primakov, as an envoy to see Saddam in Baghdad in October 1990.

Primakov then had a meeting with Bush in Washington, followed by another visit to Saddam, as part of his peace mission.

Secret documents in a Soviet archive smuggled to the West suggest that Saddam rejected the Soviet-US peace plan because he would not agree to keep the link between Kuwait and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict secret or “invisible”, and would not unequivocally promise to withdraw from Kuwait.

The picture of Americans and Russians fighting side by side... would make a very strong impression

James Baker speaking to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990

In November 1990, ten days after the failure of Primakov’s mission, the US began military preparations for an invasion of Iraq. At the same time, James Baker, the then US secretary of state, saw Gorbachev in Moscow.

The transcript of their meeting, written by Gorbachev’s interpreter, Pavel Palazhchenko, from his shorthand notes, is included in the Soviet archive smuggled to the West. Exaro has had the transcript translated from Russian into English. It records Gorbachev as saying: “We can see that you are disappointed, and we are also not pleased with the results of the efforts undertaken.

“However, I would like to assure you: whatever we do, whatever we are yet to do, our agreement with you is still in force. We will take no separate steps behind your back.”

Baker replied: “Thank you. We are confident of that.”

“There has been no shortage of attempts to solve the problem by diplomatic means. The Soviet Union also made such attempts, and we do not criticise you for that.

“We could not have agreed to a partial settlement, we believe it would be a terrible mistake. Frankly, we can see no difference between ‘face-saving’ and rewarding the aggressor.”

Baker also repeated Bush’s request to Gorbachev for Soviet forces to join the planned US military attack on Iraq.

Baker told Gorbachev: “I am haunted by the thought that, if we have to use force, the picture of Americans and Russians fighting side by side – even if your participation is limited to a small sub-division – would make a very strong impression.”

But Gorbachev refused. The US-led military attack on Iraq duly began in January 1991. After America and its allies launched a second military attack on Iraq in 2003, Saddam was hanged in Baghdad in 2006.

The secret transcript of the meeting between the US and Soviet leaders at the summit in Helsinki uncovered in the Soviet archive, which reveals how America secretly took part in an audacious Soviet attempt at a peace deal with Saddam Hussein to head off war with Iraq in 1990, is at variance with the account given in the joint memoirs of Bush and his national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, ‘A World Transformed’.

Their book said that Gorbachev insisted on linking Kuwait to the Israel-Palestine conflict in a joint press statement, but then conceded the point.

In his own memoirs, Baker takes the credit for outmanoeuvring the Soviets on this issue.

Neither memoir mentions Gorbachev’s proposal to “sound out” Saddam on his proposed peace plan or that Bush agreed to it.

In their memoirs, Bush, Scowcroft and Baker are critical of Primakov’s mission, portraying it as a unilateral Soviet initiative which caught the US administration by surprise.

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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