Friday, December 19, 2003
and future defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld
and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein shake
hands December 20, 1983 in Baghdad, Iraq. Rumsfeld
met with Hussein during the war between Iran and
Iraq as an envoy for then-president Ronald Reagan.
Followed Criticism Of Chemical Arms' Use
Baghdad in 1984 to Reassure Iraqis, Documents Show
By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff
DONALD H. Rumsfeld went to
Baghdad in March 1984 with instructions to deliver
a private message about weapons of mass
destruction: that the United States' public
criticism of Iraq for using chemical weapons would
not derail Washington's attempts to forge a better
relationship, according to newly declassified
Rumsfeld, then President Ronald Reagan's
special Middle East envoy, was urged to tell Iraqi
Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz that the U.S.
statement on chemical weapons, or CW, "was made
strictly out of our strong opposition to the use of
lethal and incapacitating CW, wherever it occurs,"
according to a cable to Rumsfeld from
then-Secretary of State George P.
The statement, the cable said, was not intended
to imply a shift in policy, and the U.S. desire "to
improve bilateral relations, at a pace of Iraq's
choosing," remained "undiminished." "This message
bears reinforcing during your discussions."
The documents, obtained
under the Freedom of Information Act by the
nonprofit National Security Archive, provide
new, behind-the-scenes details of U.S. efforts
to court Iraq as an ally even as it used
chemical weapons in its war with Iran.
An earlier trip by Rumsfeld to Baghdad, in
December 1983, has been widely reported as having
helped persuade Iraq to resume diplomatic ties with
the United States. An explicit purpose of
Rumsfeld's return trip in March 1984, the
once-secret documents reveal for the first time,
was to ease the strain created by a U.S.
condemnation of chemical weapons.
The documents do not show what Rumsfeld said in
his meetings with Aziz, only what he was instructed
to say. It would be highly unusual for a
presidential envoy to have ignored direct
instructions from Shultz.
When details of Rumsfeld's December
came to light last year, the defense secretary told
CNN that he had "cautioned" Saddam Hussein about
the use of chemical weapons, an account that was at
odds with the declassified State Department notes
of his 90-minute meeting, which did not mention
such a caution. Later, a Pentagon spokesman said
Rumsfeld raised the issue not with Hussein, but
Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita said
yesterday that "the secretary said what he said,
and I would go with that. He has a recollection of
how that meeting went, and I can't imagine that
some additional cable is going to change how he
recalls the meeting."
"I don't think it has to be inconsistent," Di
Rita said. "You could make a strong condemnation of
the use of chemical weapons, or any kind of lethal
agents, and then say, with that in mind, 'Here's
another set of issues' " to be discussed.
Last year, the Bush administration cited its
belief that Iraq had and would use weapons of mass
destruction -- including chemical, biological and
nuclear devices -- as the principal reason for
going to war.
But throughout 1980s,
while Iraq was fighting a prolonged war with
Iran, the United States saw Hussein's government
as an important ally and bulwark against the
militant Shiite extremism seen in the 1979
revolution in Iran. Washington worried that the
Iranian example threatened to destabilize
friendly monarchies in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and
Publicly, the United States maintained
neutrality during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war,
which began in 1980.
Privately, however, the administrations of
Reagan and George H.W. Bush sold military
goods to Iraq, including
poisonous chemicals and deadly biological
agents, worked to stop the flow of weapons
to Iran, and undertook discreet diplomatic
initiatives, such as the two Rumsfeld trips to
Baghdad, to improve relations with Hussein.
Tom Blanton, executive director of the
National Security Archives, a Washington-based
research center, said the secret support for
Hussein offers a lesson for U.S. foreign relations
in the post-Sept. 11 world.
"The dark corners of diplomacy deserve some
scrutiny, and people working in places like Saudi
Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan and Uzbekistan deserve this
kind of scrutiny, too, because the relations we're
having with dictators today will produce Saddams
Shultz, in his instructions to Rumsfeld,
underscored the confusion that the conflicting U.S.
signals were creating for Iraq.
"Iraqi officials have professed to be at a loss
to explain our actions as measured against our
stated objectives," he wrote. "As with our CW
statement, their temptation is to give up rational
analysis and retreat to the line that U.S. policies
are basically anti-Arab and hostage to the desires
declassified documents also show the hope of
another senior diplomat, the British ambassador to
Iraq, in working constructively with Hussein.
Shortly after Hussein became deputy to the
president in 1969, then-British Ambassador H.G.
Balfour Paul cabled back his impressions after
a first meeting: "I should judge him, young as he
is, to be a formidable, single-minded and
hard-headed member of the Ba'athist hierarchy, but
one with whom, if only one could see more of him,
it would be possible to do business."
"A presentable young man" with "an engaging
smile," Paul wrote. "Initially regarded as a
[Baath] Party extremist, but responsibility
may mellow him."
Staff writer Vernon Loeb
contributed to this article.