WORLD

Raising the stakes

A toughening war of words shadows the Gulf

JOHN BIERMAN November 5 1990
WORLD

Raising the stakes

A toughening war of words shadows the Gulf

JOHN BIERMAN November 5 1990

Raising the stakes

A toughening war of words shadows the Gulf

WORLD

THE PERSIAN GULF

The drums of war were pounding last week. In the United States, President George Bush declared that he remains determined to force the Iraqi army out of the Persian Gulf emirate of Kuwait. And Defence Secretary Richard Cheney suggested that the Pentagon is preparing to send as many as 100,000 additional troops to the Gulf. In Ottawa, External Affairs Minister Joe Clark said that Canada is now ready to join in a war against the Iraqis if they do not leave Kuwait—and that military action may be taken without United Nations approval. The next day, in a speech at the University of Western Ontario in London,

Clark painted a stark picture of the effects of a Gulf conflict. “We should not rule out the possibility,” he declared,

“that young Canadian soldiers, women and men, will not return to this country for celebrations, but will stay there for burial.”

The tough talk from Washington and Ottawa was clearly an attempt to prepare North Americans for the possibility of war—perhaps an imminent one. In the House of Commons, opposition MPs charged that the government’s aggressive stance was decidedly reckless, and that Washington was dictating Canadian policy. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney denied the made-in-Washington claim. And he insisted that the Canadian government—which has three warships, 18 warplanes and nearly 1,500 servicemen and women in the Gulf—had not “upped the ante” in the standoff with Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein.

Hussein, meanwhile, stepped up his efforts to split the 25-nation alliance arrayed against him. Responding to a visit from former British prime minister Edward Heath, he released 32 British and 14 American hostages. As well, Hussein announced the pending release of all 327 French nationals trapped since Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2—apparently without conditions. According to U.S. officials, the Iraqi president also invited Clark to Baghdad, holding out the prospect of freeing some of the estimated 80 stranded Canadians if Clark made the trip. Cheney said in Washington that Ottawa had effectively told Hussein to “buzz off.”

But Clark and Mulroney denied receiving an invitation from Iraq, and Mulroney added that, in any case, sending a special envoy to Baghdad would only promote Hussein’s "propaganda purposes.”

Those hard-line Western positions contrasted sharply with statements by two Arab allies. Cheney’s Saudi Arabian counterpart, Prince Sultan Ibn Abdul Aziz, said that if Iraq has “legitimate claims” against Kuwait, they might be addressed after its unconditional withdrawal

from the emirate. And Sheik Saud Nasir alSabah, the Kuwaiti ambassador in Washington, said that his govemment-in-exile was “quite comfortable” with that statement.

Some analysts claimed that those statements signalled a weakening of the alliance confronting Iraq, although Cheney said soon afterward that he may send as many as 100,000 troops to augment the 210,000 U.S. servicemen already in the region. One U.S. official, who requested anonymity, said that “we are not at a point now where we have to consider military action—we have put a policy together centred around sanctions, and we ought to give it time to succeed.” But, for every appeal to patience, there seemed to be a stronger, countervailing warning of war.

JOHN BIERMAN with NANCY WOOD in Ottawa and correspondents’ reports

NANCY WOOD