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Iraq Officially Recognizes Kuwait, but U.S. Is Skeptical : Mideast: Hussein used claim to land as excuse for 1990 invasion . Washington not ready to lift sanctions.

November 11, 1994|STANLEY MEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

UNITED NATIONS — Iraq, heeding the demand of the Security Council, officially recognized Kuwait on Thursday, but skeptical American officials insisted that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein must still meet a host of other requirements before the United Nations can lift any sanctions.

The recognition means that Iraq has abandoned its traditional claim to Kuwait, a claim that Hussein invoked as his excuse for invading the small emirate in 1990 and precipitating the Persian Gulf War that ended with his defeat.

According to a statement issued in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, and purportedly signed by Hussein, the Revolutionary Command Council decided to recognize "the sovereignty of the state of Kuwait, its territorial integrity and political independence." The council, headed by Hussein, also recognized the international Iraq-Kuwait boundary set down by a U.N. commission in 1991.

The council said it was taking these steps because of its respect for the U.N. Charter and international law and its intention "to comply fully with all relevant resolutions of the United Nations Security Council."

The Iraqi National Assembly also recognized the independence and boundary of Kuwait, passing the resolution in a special session attended by Russian Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev. The Russian foreign minister has annoyed American officials recently with his persistent campaign to lift some of the sanctions on Iraq.

The Iraqi News Agency quoted Kozyrev as saying, "There is a wall of ice surrounding Iraq, intended to isolate it, but the sun has now risen to melt this ice."

Despite the skeptical reaction from Americans, the Iraqi government intends to press its case for at least a partial end to sanctions by sending Deputy Prime Minister Tarik Aziz, who has long served Hussein as spokesman to the Western world, to the United Nations on Monday. American Ambassador Madeleine Albright told reporters that she has agreed to meet him, but only in her capacity as president of the Security Council for the month of November.

A meeting of the two would mark the highest-level Iraqi-American meeting since the Gulf War. But a U.S. official cautioned against "attaching any significance to the meeting." Albright will not be meeting Aziz as American ambassador, he said.

James P. Rubin, spokesman for Albright, made it clear that the United States will not agree to any lifting of sanctions when the Security Council makes its bimonthly review of the issue next week. Without the acquiescence of the United States, which has the power of veto in the Security Council, no lifting of sanctions is possible.

The recognition of Kuwait "complied with only one of a number of requirements set by the Security Council," Rubin said. "We have to keep in mind that Saddam Hussein's blatant provocation against Kuwait and the United Nations last month demonstrated anew his untrustworthiness and his readiness to resort to threats and confrontation to achieve his objectives.

"It will be important," he went on, "that the council continue to make clear there will be no modification of the sanctions regime so long as Iraq has failed to establish its peaceful intentions by complying fully with all relevant Security Council resolutions."

This longstanding American position is at odds with that of Kozyrev and, to some extent, the French government. The Russians and French have argued that the Security Council should follow the strict letter of the Security Council resolutions.

Under this strict reading, the sanctions on the sale of oil will be lifted when a U.N. special commission determines that Iraq has eliminated all of its weapons of mass destruction and has submitted to a system of long-term monitoring that makes sure it does not build such weapons again.

But American officials say that it is impossible to trust Hussein's acceptance of a monitoring system as long as he has not complied with all Security Council resolutions. To prove his good intentions, they say, the Iraqi leader must comply with various other Security Council demands, including an accounting of missing Kuwaiti prisoners, a halt in the persecution of the Kurds and Shiite Muslims in his country, and payment of compensation to Kuwait for destroyed property and to other countries hurt by the war.

The argument has led to some angry exchanges between the Americans, who appear sure that the French and Russians are interested only in resuming a lucrative trade, and the French and Russians, who seem certain that the Americans have no intention of ever lifting sanctions against Iraq.

The American refusal to halt sanctions was strengthened by a report from Rolf Ekeus of Sweden, the head of the special commission, who said Iraqi officials barely cooperated with his inspectors during the past month.

But Ekeus attributed this to fallout from the crisis provoked by Hussein last month when he moved troops to the Kuwait border in a manner that the United States said threatened a new invasion.

Ekeus told reporters that he looked on the recognition of Kuwait as an "extremely positive" development because it seemed logical for it to lead to "a policy of full cooperation" with the commission's inspectors.

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