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Saddam Says Chances Of War 50-50; Iraq Tests Missiles

December 3, 1990

Undated (AP) _ Saddam Hussein’s armies rattled nerves around the Persian Gulf Sunday with the first test of surface-to-surface missiles since the invasion of Kuwait, and Iraq’s president said the chances of war are ″50-50.″

In Washington, Secretary of State James A. Baker III said the United States would not attack Iraq - provided Iraqi troops are withdrawn from Kuwait and foreign hostages are freed.

Iraq, which has been sporadically releasing captives, let more go on Sunday. Fifteen freed Americans flew out of Iraq to Amman, Jordan, with former world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, who secured their release in talks with Saddam.

A spokesman for the boxer said he planned to return to Baghdad on Christmas Eve to try to bring out more of the hundreds of remaining captives, who were stranded when Iraq invaded small, oil-rich Kuwait on Aug. 2.

Also in Amman, Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Kassem told Kuwaiti leaders that Jordan favors the total withdrawal of Iraqi troops from the emirate, according to Kuwaiti reports and a senior Jordanian official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A statement signed by former Kuwaiti Parliamentarian Ahmad Al-Rabee said the meeting ″was a step towards improving relations″ between the two nations.

King Hussein has criticized Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, but has failed to strongly condemn it like most countries. There was also speculation some supplies were shipped through Jordan to Iraq in violation of the U.N.-backed trade embargo.

The Kuwaiti delegation, which includes lawmakers, journalists and writers, was scheduled to meet King Hussein and other state officials.

Iraq, meanwhile, told the Soviet Union that it could lose its influence in the Arab world if it sent troops to the Persian Gulf. That was apparently in response to a warning from Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, who said last week Moscow would send in soldiers if Soviet citizens trapped in Iraq were harmed.

The official Iraqi News agency quoted an Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying Shevardnadze ″seems to be looking for a pretext to send troops to the region.″

More than 350,000 troops are in the Persian Gulf as part of the US.-led multinational force. American troops, now numbering more 240,000, are expected to swell to around 400,000 by next month.

The U.S. military refused to say whether the American forces went on alert Sunday when Iraq launched surface-to-surface missiles in what appeared to be test launches.

The missiles were fired - and landed - in Iraqi territory, U.S. military officials in Saudi Arabia said in a statement.

The officials refused to say how the missiles were detected, but they apparently were monitored either by U.S. spy satellites or AWACS airborne early-warning radar planes, which are on patrol 24 hours a day.

The military statement did not say what kind of missiles were involved, but Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, interviewed in Washington by ABC-TV, said they were SCUD missiles ″or SCUD variants.″ He said it was the first such firing since April.

Cheney said Saddam has used the missiles, which have a range of 350 to 400 miles, with conventional warheads in the past. But he said a SCUD ″could conceivably carry chemical weapons.″

The Iraqi test-firing came at a time of already heightened tensions. The forces in Saudi Arabia were reported to have been put on ″yellow alert″ - one category below full combat alert - last week, after the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution authorizing use of force against Iraq if it does not withdraw from Kuwait by Jan. 15.

Saddam, in an interview broadcast Sunday by the French television network Antenne 2, repeatedly refused to answer questions about the possibility of a pullout from Kuwait.

In the interview, the first granted to a foreign television network since the U.N. resolution was passed, he was asked what the chances were of war breaking out.

″Fifty-fifty,″ he replied.

But he said he was ready to talk with U.S. officials if they came to Baghdad ″in a spirit of dialogue.″ That was in apparent reference to an offer by President Bush last week to send Baker to Iraq for talks.

Iraq accepted, but said it wanted to talk about the Arab-Israeli conflict too. The United States has refused to link any resolution of the gulf crisis with the Palestinian question.

Baker said Sunday that if Saddam complied with U.N. resolutions passed since the crisis erupted four months ago, he would have no reason to fear attack.

″There has never been any suggestion that force would be used if the U.N. resolutions are fully complied with,″ the secretary of state said in an interview on NBC-TV.

Those resolutions call for the unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait, the restoration of the Kuwaiti government and the release of all hostages.

The 15 Americans freed Sunday were among 47 foreigners, including Belgians, Britons and Canadians freed separately by Iraq, who arrived in Amman aboard an Iraqi Airways flight.

All the Americans had been held at strategic sites in Iraq and Kuwait as ″human shields″ against any attack by the multinational force.

In other developments:

-Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz met with Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The Iraq News Agency said only that they discussed ″developments in the Arab arena.″

-Eight British women and one Dutch woman left London Sunday bound for Baghdad, where they hope to win the release of their husbands. The British government discourages such trips, but similar missions have met with success.

-Filipinos returning from Iraq and occupied Kuwait told of long lines for food and of Iraqis scavenging for scraps thrown away at the airport by departing foreigners. Some of the Filipinos also said Iraqi soldiers were still looting groceries and homes in occupied Kuwait.