Iraq Seeks Closer Ties With Ex-Foe Iran; Superpowers Discuss Crisis
Undated (AP) _ Iraq’s foreign minister Sunday sought help from Iran in cracking the U.N.-imposed embargo on Baghdad, but the United States and Soviet Union renewed their commitment to the sanctions.
Syria’s official news agency reported that a series of 46 explosions were heard in the Iraqi town of Al-Qaim near the border, resulting in an undetermined number of casualties. ABC News identified the site of the blasts as the al-Qaim chemical plant.
The official Iraqi News Agency denied the reports.
Polish workers returning home from Iraq reported that about 35 Americans were brought to the chemical plant in Al-Qaim on Aug. 17 under guard. It was not known whether any Westerners were still being held as human shields at the plant.
Meanwhile, more Americans flew to freedom after being held in Iraq and Kuwait following Iraq’s invasion of its neighbor on Aug. 2. Hundreds are still held as human shields against U.S. and other forces building up in the Persian Gulf region.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz met with Iranian officials in Tehran, Iran’s capital, in the first official Iraqi visit since the two countries went to war in 1980. The fighting ended in a cease-fire in August 1988.
Sources in Tehran, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Aziz was likely to ask Iranian officials to allow shipments of food and medicine into his country. The U.N. embargo permits only humanitarian shipments of such supplies.
The trip by Aziz paves the way for a meeting between Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani to sign a peace treaty officially ending hostilities.
In Sunday’s talks, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati reiterated his country’s condemnation of the invasion of Kuwait. But he also criticized the presence of U.S. and other foreign forces building up in the Persian Gulf, according to Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency.
Iran’s radical parliament speaker, Mehdi Karribui, warned of Moslem terrorist acts against U.S. interests unless Washington withdraws its forces from the gulf, IRNA reported.
Another warning of terrorist attacks came from the leader of a faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Abul Abbas, head of the Palestine Liberation Front, told the American television network CNN that his group could strike ″if the United States initiates the attack on the Arab people and on us.″
In another indication Iraq was hurting from U.N.-imposed sanctions, the Baghdad government is cracking down on black marketeers.
Iraqi newspapers on Sunday published a government decree saying anyone hoarding food or gouging prices on scarce food will face jail terms of up to 15 years. Food already is being rationed.
The Syrian news agency, in its dispatch on explosions in Iraq, said its correspondent in the town of Boukamal, three miles west of the Iraqi town of al-Qaim, reported a ″wave″ of blasts. It said appeals for urgent blood donations ″to save the lives of the victims″ were made minutes later over loudspeakers in al-Qaim’s mosques.
The news agency said no further details were available. Syria is a bitter rival of Iraq within the Arab world and has sent troops to Saudi Arabia as part of a multinational Arab force.
The government-run Iraqi News Agency, quoting an unidentified source, dismissed the Syrian report of explosions as ″sheer fabrication.″
In Helsinki, Finland, President Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev agreed anew Sunday on ″the path that the U.N. has set″ in forcing Iraq to pull its troops out of Kuwait.
But the superpower leaders stopped short of asking each other to take any immediate specific measures to force Iraq from Kuwait.
Saudi Arabia, an orthodox Moslem kingdom, has resisted relations with Moscow over the years because of its aversion to atheistic communism. But Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, said Sunday there have been ″serious contacts″ with Moscow about establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Iraq’s 1 million-member army has deployed an estimated 260,000 troops along with hundreds of tanks in and around Kuwait since seizing its oil-rich southern neighbor in a dispute over oil, land and money.
About 100,000 U.S. troops have been deployed in the Gulf region as part of a multinational buildup to defend Saudi Arabia and enforce the U.N.-sanctioned embargo on trade with Iraq.
Navy officers from the United States and nine other countries met Sunday in Manama, Bahrain, to coordinate the sea blockade.
Meanwhile, the flow of refugees from Iraq and Kuwait continued Sunday. Thousands more Asians and Arabs crossed into Turkey and Jordan, and more American and British women and children were headed home.
A U.S.-chartered flight carrying about 300 Americans flew from Amman, Jordan, to Charleston, S.C., and a British-chartered Iraqi Airways jumbo jet carrying 438 evacuees - including 163 Americans - flew from Baghdad to London.
About 10,000 Westerners were believed to remain in Kuwait and Iraq, including about 1,000 Americans in Kuwait. While Iraq has allowed women and children to leave, it has moved more Western men to army installations, factories and other potential military targets.
More than 110,000 mostly penniless men, women and children from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and other Third World nations have been stuck in Jordan since fleeing Kuwait and Iraq.
A squadron of Indian air force planes and chartered airliners flew home hundreds of Indians on Sunday.
Another airlift, by the International Migration Organization, started Thursday and continued over the weekend to fly Sri Lankans home.
But a senior Jordanian official said the number of repatriations ″hardly keeps up with the continuing influx of new arrivals.″
The U.S. and other embassies in Kuwait were defying a siege by Iraqi troops trying to shut them down, but many ran low on supplies after the Iraqis cut off their water and power nearly two weeks ago.
On Sunday, Danish Ambassador Birger Dan Nielsen left his compound and arrived in Baghdad on orders from his government to temporarily close the embassy.
Belgian Foreign Minister Mark Eyskens said the remaining European Community embassies in Kuwait could hold out for two more weeks. After that, he said they will seek to accredit their diplomats with the Kuwaiti government-in- exile in Saudi Arabia.