By Pavel Stroilov | 22 July 2011
France and the Soviet Union embarked on a diplomatic effort to restrain America even after it began military action over Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.
Francois Mitterrand, then president of France, telephoned his then Soviet counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev, the day after US-led forces began air strikes in Iraq in January 1991.
The Soviet transcript of the conversation is among secret documents that reveal how France helped the Soviet Union to stop America toppling Saddam Hussein as Iraq’s president in the first Gulf War.
“I think that Assad would not mind if Saddam were removed”
– Mikhail Gorbachev speaking privately to Roland Dumas in 1991
It records Mitterrand telling Gorbachev: “As far as France is concerned, we are fulfilling our allied commitments with the only objective, to start the process of restoring peace in the region after Kuwait is liberated.”
“As soon as Kuwait is liberated, it would make sense for you and me to intervene in the events in some way in order to limit their scale.”
Unlike France, the Soviet Union took no part in the military action against Iraq, which was sanctioned by the security council of the United Nations (UN), and Gorbachev continued his efforts to broker a deal with Saddam.
Gorbachev received the then French foreign minister, Roland Dumas, in February 1991 to discuss the Franco-Soviet common agenda. According to the transcript of that meeting, translated into English, Dumas said: “Saddam Hussein certainly does not help you with his actions.”
Gorbachev: “And we, like you, helped him with this war, but he would not listen to us.”
Dumas: “Unfortunately, no. We were in touch with him until the evening of 15 January, when I spoke to him on the phone. I told him, ‘Say just one word about withdrawing troops from Kuwait, and then it will be possible to do something.’ And yet, he chose not to say that word.”
Gorbachev: “We also did everything in our power. But his actions now are irrational. He is simply paranoid.”
Dumas: “Yes, that’s right.”
Gorbachev: “But we do not weaken our efforts.”
“We strictly follow the UN security council resolutions, and, by doing this, we are doing a service to those who have undertaken the burden of military operations, especially the Americans. The US should show responsibility and not go beyond the mandate of the security council, which authorises the liberation of Kuwait but not the destruction of Iraq. The Americans should be reminded about that.”
Dumas: “Yes, it is necessary to remind them about it frequently. As for France, our position is somewhat different because we are directly involved in the coalition. However, we stress that our involvement is strictly limited by the UN mandate, ie the task of liberating Kuwait.”
“But there are also other approaches. Some forces want Saddam’s regime to be eliminated so that it would be unable to cause harm to anybody else.”
Referring to the then US president, George Bush senior, he continued: “I am not talking about the Bush administration, but about certain forces in America, as well as Israel. This also applies to Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia.”
And in a reference to Syria’s then president, the late Hafez Assad, Gorbachev replied: “I think that Assad would not mind if Saddam were removed.”
In the days before the US-led allies began the ground offensive against Iraq in February 1991, Gorbachev made another attempt to negotiate a deal during a late-night meeting in Moscow with Tariq Aziz, then Iraq’s foreign minister.