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Bush Rejects Iraqis' Offer to Leave Kuwait as 'Cruel Hoax' : Gulf War: Baghdad offers to withdraw in return for an allied pullout, reparations and linkage to Mideast issues. The President urges overthrow of Saddam Hussein. : of Iraqi statement, A14. Bush statement text, A15.

February 16, 1991|NICK B. WILLIAMS Jr. and JAMES GERSTENZANG | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

AMMAN, Jordan — Iraq offered Friday to withdraw from Kuwait if the United States and its allies met several conditions, but President Bush said the offer was "dead on arrival" and rejected it as "a cruel hoax."

For the first time, Bush explicitly urged the Iraqi military and the people of Iraq to overthrow President Saddam Hussein.

"Until a massive withdrawal begins, with those troops visibly leaving Kuwait," Bush said, the United States and its allies will press the Persian Gulf War without letup. "But there's another way for the bloodshed to stop.

"And that is for the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands, to force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside, and to comply with the United Nations resolutions, and then rejoin the family of peace-loving nations."

Iraq said it would abide by a U.N. resolution calling for unconditional withdrawal of its troops from Kuwait. But it then attached conditions, including a pullout of allied forces, Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab territories, payment of allied war reparations to Iraq and replacement of Kuwait's ruling Sabah family with a new Kuwaiti government.

Hussein's offer, broadcast on Baghdad Radio at 2:30 p.m., brought a joyous demonstration on the streets of the Iraqi capital. People thought it meant the end of the war, which is heading into its second bloody month. Air raid sirens wailed, and Baghdadis fired rifles into the air. People gathered in excited groups to discuss the news.

But excitement in Baghdad and elsewhere ended as the United States made its response and as U.S. commanders began repositioning tens of thousands of Marines along the border of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in preparation for a ground assault. Britain and France declared that Hussein's offer was not enough. British Prime Minister John Major called it "a bogus sham."

Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, however, welcomed the Iraqi proposal as "a positive signal" to be explored. And, while Bush publicly greeted Hussein's offer with pessimism, it was privately seen at the White House as a sign that Hussein is suffering from the pressure of unrelenting allied air attacks and might be preparing to give in.

While taking pains to avoid raising any expectations, one official noted that the offer marked the first time Hussein has spoken about leaving Kuwait--and that the move therefore represents a breakthrough, albeit one that could take weeks or months to play out.

"He isn't going to get a deal, but this prepares the way for him to get out," one official said. "He's starting to prepare public opinion for the loss of Kuwait. He is blustering, and he has upped his demands. But what has never been on the table before he has put on the table. It's a good sign."

In Congress, lawmakers said Hussein's offer was too conditional to be the basis of a cease-fire. But they said it might be a significant diplomatic opening that could lead to an end to the fighting. "This is the first time since the beginning of the war that Iraq has expressed a willingness to withdraw from Kuwait," said Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Me.). "And, in that respect, it's good news."

Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) said Hussein's offer "might be a slight crack." But he added: "There should be no pause, no cease-fire, no timeouts."

In Baghdad

Hussein's offer came shortly after Baghdad Radio alerted listeners to stay tuned for an important announcement. The broadcast said Hussein's eight-man ruling Revolutionary Command Council had been meeting through Thursday night.

Then, in a much longer announcement, the council declared Iraq's willingness to withdraw from Kuwait in return for a basketful of political concessions. Its first demand was an immediate cease-fire.

Further, it insisted that Baghdad's compliance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 660, which calls for unconditional withdrawal, be rewarded by cancellation of 11 other council resolutions related to the Gulf crisis, including the economic embargo against Iraq.

Other conditions were:

That allied troops and weapons be withdrawn from the Persian Gulf region within one month of a cease-fire.

That Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait be linked with an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied West Bank and Gaza, the Golan Heights and the Jerusalem government's security strip in southern Lebanon. If Israel refuses to withdraw, the ruling council said, then the U.N. Security Council should impose on Jerusalem the same resolutions now in place against Baghdad.

The ruling council's announcement said linkage to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, previously rejected by Washington and other allied powers, is a required condition to "the first step" by Iraq, leaving unclear whether it wants the process to be simultaneous or sequential.

That weapons sent to Israel "under the pretext of the crisis in the Gulf" be withdrawn. Both the United States and Germany have sent Patriot missiles to Israel as a defense against Iraqi Scud missiles.

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