A Tent In The Desert Accommodates Historic Truce Talks With AM-Gulf Rdp, Bjt
SAFWAN, Iraq (AP) _ Peace came Sunday in the simplest of surroundings. The generals gathered in a tent on an airstrip, seated around a plain rectangular redwood table no bigger than four feet long and two feet across.
″I put the table up. It’s going into the Smithsonian,″ said Maj. Kathy Stinson, of Wheaton, Md., the protocol officer for the VII Corps who helped arrange the meeting.
There was little pomp or ceremony, but a great sense of the significance of the moment. ″This is a historic day,″ said the U.S. commander and chief delegate, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, as he entered the truce talks.
Hundreds of anxious GIs kept a vigil in the sands outside the tent, crowding around an American flag.
For the GIs, soldiers like Spec. James Prather of Edgewood, Ill., the meeting had more than just historic significance. It might mean the difference between life and death; it could determine when they next see their loved ones back home.
″We got some good news,″ said Prather, who is 21. ″The POWs are finally going to get to come back home. We’re making progress in the war so everybody gets to go home. I got a baby on the way, due next month. I’d like to see my first son.″
The soldiers listened carefully as Schwarzkopf told a news conference of more than 60 journalists that the Iraqis agreed to make sure their forces do not come into contact with the Americans. Schwarzkopf said he had extracted everything he wanted from the Iraqi delegation.
His public remarks were vintage Schwarzkopf: tough and blunt, but also gracious and warm.
″It looks like hell,″ he said of the scores of oil well fires spewing black smoke into the skies behind him.
Once inside, Schwarzkopf reportedly told jokes to lighten the mood, even drawing smiles from the Iraqis.
At the news conference, he at least twice prompted the joint Arab commander, Saudi Lt. Gen. Khalid bin Sultan, in his answers to journalists. ″Don’t go into the details on this,″ he told the Arab commander.
In a show of force as well as security, Schwarzkopf ringed the base with Patriot missile launchers, tanks, armored vehicles and Apache helicopters armed with deadly Hellfire rockets.
Nearby stood ″Scud Mountain,″ so named by GIs because it was supposedly a site for launches of the Iraqi ballistic missile.
″I’m not here to give them anything,″ Schwarzkopf said before entering the two-hour meeting. ″I’m here to tell them exactly what we expect them to do.″
He warmly embraced Kuwaiti Maj. Gen. Jaber al-Sabah and told him, ″Congratulations.″
″Thank you very much indeed, sir,″ the Kuwaiti general said.
″There’s nothing to thank us for,″ Schwarzkopf replied. ″It was a team effort.″
When the Iraqi delegation of seven generals and a colonel arrived, they looked grim and pained.
They had driven to a checkpoint just outside the Safwan base, just across the Kuwait border, and there were picked up by American escorts who were heavily armed.
Only two days earlier, the Americans had taken over their territory. Capts. Ken Pope, of Lenoir, N.C., and Michael Bills of Springfieled, Va., had led armored columns to the brink of a shootout with an Iraqi brigade dug in at the base.
But with bluff and bravado, the two captains talked the Iraqi brigade commander into leaving. A large sign was posted at the entrance: ″Welcome to Iraq. Courtesy of the Big Red One,″ the U.S. First Infantry Division.
The Iraqi generals were searched and screened with a metal detector in another tent away from the press, so they would not be photographed.
″I don’t want them embarrassed,″ Schwarzkopf told another general. ″I don’t want them humiliated.″
What he did want was peace on his terms, and he got it.