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Mitterrand undermined global call to restore Kuwait emir

International demands during the first Gulf War for the restoration of Kuwait’s leadership were undermined by France in private discussions between French and Soviet leaders.

According to a Soviet transcript, Francois Mitterrand, the then French president, told his Soviet counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev, in a telephone conversation that he disagreed with the insistence of America and its allies that Kuwait’s then exiled emir, the late Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, be returned to power.

Mitterand spoke to Gorbachev the month after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, and before the US-led military action began. Mitterrand also hoped that more strongly applied economic sanctions against Iraq would help negotiations to resolve the issue.

I did not take any special obligations in respect of [Kuwait’s] exiled ruling family

Francois Mitterrand speaking privately to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990

He told Gorbachev: “If we manage to keep the blockade really strict, this might open a way for negotiation.”

“I am coming to the conclusion that there is a foundation for negotiation. However, these talks can only begin from the moment the [United Nations] security council’s resolutions are implemented. This includes restoration of Kuwait’s sovereignty.

“When talking about restoration of Kuwait’s sovereignty, I only mean the country. I would like to tell you that I did not take any special obligations in respect of the exiled ruling family. Unlike some of my allies, who advocated their restoration, I never supported this requirement.

“My personal opinion is that Iraq may achieve certain advantages as a result of negotiations, but, of course, not so much as annexation of Kuwait.”

In an earlier part of the conversation, Mitterrand said: “We must stand firm against Iraq to make it accept concessions. But this approach must be backed up by a single policy towards the United States.

“The problem is that the American government is under pressure from a very large proportion of its public, which demands fast and dramatic military action.”

Gorbachev replied: “Yes, we must help our friends from Washington to see the real way out of the situation, and to show the benefits.”

The transcript of the conversation is part of a cache of secret documents that reveal how France helped the Soviet Union to stop America toppling Saddam Hussein as Iraq’s president in the Gulf War of 1990-91. Exaro has had it, along with other material from the smuggled Soviet archive, translated from Russian to English.

From the early stages of the crisis, Gorbachev and Mitterrand emerged as the leading ‘doves’, opposing military action and trying instead to reach a compromise with Saddam.

A transcript of a meeting between Gorbachev and France’s then foreign minister, Roland Dumas, held later in the same month of the Iraqi invasion, records the Soviet leader as saying: “We gave [the Americans] a warning: be careful, they are provoking you, they are trying to make you resort to military force in the Persian Gulf.

“The Americans feel that we are sincere, and that we can be trusted while before they would probably do the exact opposite to our advice, just because it comes from Russians.”

Dumas said: “From the very beginning, we took an independent stance to our allies and, above all, the USA. But such ‘autonomy’ does not automatically mean disagreement. We are talking about freedom in making assessments, decisions and actions. Like you, we frequently had to restrain the USA’s dynamics.”

Mitterrand supported Gorbachev’s efforts to broker a peace deal with Saddam on the basis of linking the Kuwait crisis with the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Gorbachev was in France in October 1990 while his envoy, Yevgeny Primakov held a fruitless final round of his negotiations with Saddam about the proposed peace deal.

The next day, Gorbachev met Mitterrand and said: “This morning, at 5am, a telegram was received from Yevgeny Primakov. He reported that on Sunday, October 28, he had talks with almost all the Iraqi leadership, and then an hour-long one-to-one conversation with Saddam Hussein.”

“Saddam declares that he is firmly committed to finding a peaceful way out of the current situation. But, interestingly, even at this stage of the Persian Gulf conflict, he at the same time firmly would not agree to any option that includes his capitulation.

“Furthermore, he firmly rejects any options that mean his public humiliation in connection with the withdrawal of Iraqi forces’ from Kuwait.

“My impression is that Saddam is obsessed with some kind of fixed idea. He is convinced that there is a conspiracy against Iraq, which aims, in particular, at removing the Iraqi president, physically attacking him.

“Saddam believes that the United States, the UK and Israel while insisting on the unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait, in fact seek only one thing – to undermine Iraq.”

Mitterrand and Gorbachev continued to work behind the scenes to restrain America’s military action against Iraq.

Pavel Stroilov is a Russian journalist and political exile living in London, and author of ‘Behind the Desert Storm

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