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The Need to Negotiate

By Jimmy Carter

Published in TIME Magazine.

Hardening positions make a peaceful resolution of the Persian Gulf crisis ever less likely. How can we make the best of this situation and heal the fractured region when the crisis is over?

Despite bold and concerted action of the U.N. Security Council, a remarkable demonstration of leadership by the U.S. in marshaling forces to defend Saudi Arabia, world condemnation and economic sanctions, there are no indications that Saddam Hussein is considering a withdrawal from Kuwait or the return of the Emir's family. With oil-price increases disturbing the world economy and with patience wearing thin, the world will inevitably turn to other issues, making it difficult to increase or even sustain the present level of economic pressure. If Saddam does not yield, the forced ejection of Iraqi troops by military action is the only remaining option. Some also advocate the destruction of Iraq's war-making capability, speaking of almost bloodless "surgical" air strikes, the incompetence or disloyalty of Iraqi troops, sustained worldwide support if the U.S. invades without U.N. sanction, and a more stable Middle East after Iraq is destroyed. These assumptions are doubtful. Military forces of America and its allies can surely prevail, but there will be serious human, economic and political costs.

It is incongruous to exalt Iraq's military threat while disparaging the competence of the Iraqis to defend their own land. The inability of either side to prevail in eight years of seesaw battles across the Iraqi-Iranian border supports the claim of military strategists that a 3-to-1 advantage is necessary for invaders. Martyrdom among devout Muslims must also be considered.

There is little doubt that an attack on Iraq without further provocation from Saddam will erode U.S. support in the Middle East. The Arab League is already split down the middle, with at least nine of its members, including some that offer lip service to the U.N. resolutions, giving over backing to Iraq. Iran is, at best, equivocal. Saddam tries to build on this support with appeals based on brotherhood, religion and the Palestinian cause. It is interesting to note that he has never criticized his Syrian brothers for sending forces to Saudi Arabia, nor has he built up troops along their common border. Most Muslim believers are uncomfortable with Western troops in their holy lands. Iraq's propagandists also remind poor Arabs, both individuals and nations, that oil-rich royal families have invested almost a trillion dollars in the Western world. They publicized the recent loss by a Saudi prince of $130 million at a European roulette wheel in one night. Armed conflict can exacerbate all these concerns and may unleash a violent grassroots reaction.

Another sobering fact is that international support is not solid. Beginning with the Helsinki summit, the Soviets have indicated that they will support only a U.N. military action (which is subject to a Chinese veto). Also, they continue to connect Iraq-Kuwait and Israel-Palestinian issues.

So far, the Bush Administration has not acknowledged the need for negotiations or exploratory talks, which might imply weakness or willingness to reverse adamant public statements. Initiating peace talks is always difficult, as we remember from Korea and Vietnam. Only unconditional surrender following a total military victory can remove the need for negotiated settlements.

No matter what happens in the next few months, including total capitulation of Iraq, we should be preparing for a time when negotiations will be required. There are few intermediaries who might expedite this process: U.N. officials; French, Soviet or other allies of ours; or leaders among the Arab nations. Any of these would be suitable, but my own preference is the Arab community. Soon after Iraq invaded Kuwait, an Arab plan was offered in Paris, Moscow and other places. It called for Iraqis to be replaced by other Arab troops in Kuwait, a U.N. or Arab force to relieve Western forces in Saudi Arabia, and then a referendum to be held under international supervision to let Kuwaitis decide their own future. These initial ideas are unacceptable by either side, but later modifications may lead to peace.

Among Arab leaders, King Hussein of Jordan can play a key role. He is an honorable and peace-loving man who does not deserve the harsh treatment he is receiving. He has supported the U.N. resolutions that demand foreign troop withdrawal from Kuwait, the return of the Emir and his family, and the imposition of economic sanctions. The King made these decisions even though Jordan shares a vulnerable border with Iraq and many of his countrymen support Saddam Hussein. Now the Jordanian monarch faces the loss of financial assistance from Saudi Arabia and others. The very survival of his nation is endangered. It would be a tragedy to permit the further destruction of Jordan. Even if other intermediaries serve, a stable Jordan will be needed in the future. A much better alternative would be for King Hussein to be recognized in the U.S., as he has been in other countries, as a key leader who, at an early stage, might help bring about a peaceful settlement of the gulf crisis - when and if it is understood that this is the only alternative to war.

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