WORLD

TALKING TURKEY

BUSH CELEBRATES THANKSGIVING IN THE DESERT AND STEPS UP THE PRESSURE AGAINST SADDAM HUSSEIN

JOHN BIERMAN December 3 1990
WORLD

TALKING TURKEY

BUSH CELEBRATES THANKSGIVING IN THE DESERT AND STEPS UP THE PRESSURE AGAINST SADDAM HUSSEIN

JOHN BIERMAN December 3 1990

TALKING TURKEY

WORLD

BUSH CELEBRATES THANKSGIVING IN THE DESERT AND STEPS UP THE PRESSURE AGAINST SADDAM HUSSEIN

Among U.S. troops at a forward base deep in the Saudi Arabian desert, President George Bush was playing two very American roles. As the leader of his nation, he presided genially over the hallowed ritual of Thanksgiving Day. And as the resolute sheriff, standing tall at the approach of High Noon, he warned Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to pull his forces out of Kuwait—or else. “We’re not walking away until our mission is done,” Bush told an audience of Gis and their guests from Britain’s 7th Armored Brigade, the “Desert Rats.” Dressed casually in khaki pants and a blue sports shirt, and accompanied by his wife, Barbara, Bush milled among the troops, slapping backs and shaking hands. It was clearly a big moment for most of the desert-weary forces—and for the President, who said later that it had been “a very emotional day.” But Bush’s speeches won only a mixed response. Some of the troops cheered his more pugnacious comments, particularly when he called Hussein “a classic bully, kicking sand in the face of the world.” But others stood silent, their hands in their pockets.

Back in the United States, the threat of war hung uneasily over Thanksgiving festivities. A group of 45 Democratic congressmen filed a lawsuit in federal court on Nov. 20, seeking an injunction that would require Bush to consult Congress before sending troops into battle. But the President has rejected congressional attempts to restrict his powers, and he seemed determined to rush a resolution through the UN Security Council that would authorize the use

of force against Iraq. A peaceful solution was preferable, said Bush after talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo last Friday. But, he added, “We’re getting tired of the status quo, and so is the rest of the world.” That also seemed to be the prevailing mood of the U.S. troops in the desert. Said Air Force Staff Sgt.

Michael Lytle: “Nobody wants bloodshed, but nobody wants to sit here six months, waiting for sanctions to take full effect.”

During his visit, Bush learned of the resignation of his firmest Gulf ally,

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (page 34). Said the President: “I’ll miss her. She has been a staunch friend.” Still, Thatcher’s departure seemed unlikely to change British Gulf policy. In fact, Defence Minister Thomas King announced Whitehall was sending another 14,000 troops to join the 16,000 soldiers of the Desert Rats.

While Bush made his tour, Secretary of State James Baker was on a difficult diplomatic mission in neighboring Yemen. There, he tried to

enlist support for the use-of-force resolution, which he plans to present to the UN before Nov. 30, when Yemen is scheduled to take over the rotating presidency of the 15-member Security Council from the United States. The presidency will give the Yemenis control over the council’s agenda although, unlike its Big Five permanent members (the United States, the Soviet Union, China, Britain and France), Ye-

men has no veto. Still, a pro-resolution vote by the council’s one Arab member would clearly send a powerful message to Iraq.

At the start of the Gulf crisis, Yemen appeared to be solidly pro-Iraqi. But in recent weeks, its support for Baghdad has declined: it has now supported five of the 10 resolutions condemning Iraq, while abstaining on the others. However, when Baker toured the ancient souk, or market, in the capital city of Sanaa, some Yemenis shouted curses at him. Many shops displayed portraits of Saddam Hussein. And at the end of his official meetings, it was clear that he had failed to persuade President Ali Abdullah Saleh to back the resolution. Declared Saleh: “We don’t support the presence of foreign troops in the region.”

The Soviets and Chinese were also considering their positions on the issue. Last week, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and his Chinese counterpart, Qian Qichen, met for 90 minutes in the western Chinese city of Urumqi near the Soviet border. According to the New China News Agency, the two ministers agreed that Iraq should withdraw from Kuwait as soon as possible. However, they made no statement about a UN resolution authorizing force, indicating that they may differ on the matter. Although leaders of both countries have cautioned Bush against moving too swiftly towards war, some diplomats in China said that the Soviets seemed to be leaning towards supporting a UN resolution, while the Chinese position remained unclear. Still, said

one diplomat, on condition of anonymity/! doubt that China would use its veto.” Earlier in the week, during the 34-nation Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe held in Paris, Bush and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney had a private, 45minute discussion on the Gulf crisis. Canada, which has contributed three warships, a squadron of jet fighters and 1,700 personnel to the multinational force, has said that it will support a use-of-force resolution. But the Mulroney government was clearly against rushing into battle. External Affairs Minister Joe Clark told reporters that he was opposed to what he called “artificial” deadlines. And in a speech to the conference, Mulroney expressed regret that the end of the Cold War had been followed so quickly by a Middle East crisis. “Just when it seemed that a peace dividend might be possible,” he said, “billions of dollars must be spent _ in the Gulf.” In fact, on Fri| day, the Mulroney govemg ment announced $350 million in spending cuts to finance Canada’s presence in the Gulf, which Defence Minister William McKnight claimed was costing $90 million a month.

Meanwhile, controversy grew in the United States and Israel over Bush’s decision to meet Syrian President Hafez al-Assad in Geneva last Friday. Syria has about 5,000 troops in the multinational force and has pledged an additional 15,000, and before leaving Cairo Bush declared, “I will work with those countries whose very presence enhances our success.” Still, Syria remained on Washington’s official list of countries that sponsor terrorism. And the Senate’s majority leader, George Mitchell, a Democrat, expressed “grave reservations” about the meeting. Even Senate Republican minority leader, Robert Dole, said of Assad, “We have to be very careful in our meetings with him.” And in Jerusalem, Israeli officials appeared stunned by the first meeting of U.S. and Syrian presidents in 13 years. Said Defence Minister Moshe Arens: “In the Middle East, the meeting is the message.”

But the most telling message was still to come, when the Security Council considers whether to give Bush the green light to use force. In the Saudi desert last week, sharing a Thanksgiving lunch of turkey roll and mashed potatoes with their commander-in-chief, U.S. troops were plainly contemplating the battle ahead—and some were openly wondering what they had to be thankful for.

JOHN BIERMAN

with correspondents’ reports