By Pavel Stroilov | 30 June 2011

US president George Bush senior agreed to a Soviet attempt to “sound out” Saddam Hussein over a possible peace deal to stop war over Kuwait.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the then Soviet president, according to the secret transcript of his meeting with Bush at a summit in Helsinki in September 1990, cited the view of his chief foreign-policy adviser on the then Iraqi leader, saying: “Yevgeny Primakov, member of the presidential council, who has known Saddam personally for a long time says that Saddam Hussein is not schizophrenic, but a person we must take seriously.

“If Saddam withdraws from Kuwait, he is finished”
– George Bush senior speaking to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990

“Maybe, we should sound him out before talking to the others. We can send someone to him, perhaps, without telling him the essence of the plan.”

Bush replied: “I suppose that you should try to sound him out anyway. We have no access to him. It would be very constructive if you, with your history of relations with Iraq, could sound him out somehow.”

Referring to Egypt’s then president, Hosni Mubarak, Bush continued: “If you talk to Mubarak, he would say, ‘Saddam cannot withdraw from Kuwait now. Too much is at stake, he has already suffered too great losses.’”

Gorbachev, talking about Syria’s then president, the late Hafez Assad, replied: “Assad says the same.”

Bush: “If he withdraws from Kuwait, he is finished.”

Gorbachev: “That is what the whole process is all about.”

Later in the conversation, the transcript records Bush as saying: “Well, let’s think this over, let’s discuss this.

“I would like to ask my assistant, Brent Scowcroft, whether he has any questions or comments in connection with this.”

Scowcroft, who was then US national security adviser, said: “No, not as yet. But the main question is, if he rejects this plan, can we indefinitely tolerate the current status-quo, this stalemate?”

Gorbachev: “If he rejects this plan, we shall keep exerting pressure, increasing Iraq’s isolation. Some internal processes may start in Iraq, when the people see there is no negotiation with this man. Then, for the Iraqi people, it would be he, rather than we, to blame for all the hardship.”

Saddam ultimately rejected the peace plan.

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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