Iraq’s Offer to Release Hostage Welcomed
LONDON (AP) _ Several governments quickly welcomed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s announcement today that he intends to release all foreigners detained in his country and Kuwait.
However, governments were waiting for confirmation and details of how the release would be organized.
″We greatly welcome this news. We have been pressing throughout for the return of all our hostages. The sooner they are back the better,″ said a spokesman for the British Foreign Office.
Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Gerry Collins said in Dublin that he was very pleased by the report, but ″we are somewhat cautious and will be so until such time as the news is confirmed.″
There are nearly 1,200 Britons held in Iraq and Kuwait, and about 250 Irish citizens.
A spokesman at the Kuwaiti Embassy in London said, ″Let’s hope this is a prelude to him (Saddam) leaving Kuwait altogether.″
Denmark’s Foreign Minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen commented:
″The decision underscores how crucial it has been to seek a united solution on the detained foreigners by means of international solidarity and efforts within the U.N. framework.″
″We must now hope that the coming diplomatic efforts lead to Saddam Hussein’s unconditional withdrawal of his troops out of Kuwait,″ Ellemann- Jensen said. Sixteen Danish hostages remain in Iraq.
Swiss Foreign Minister Andrea Reichlin said the government was reacting cautiously to the news. Switzerland has seven citizens detained in Iraq.
At the United Nations in New York, Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar was also cautiously optimistic.
″If all the information is confirmed, it will be a very good development, but I always need the proper official information about it,″ he said. But the U.N. chief said Iraq had not contacted him about the hostages.
In Belgium, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization termed Saddam’s call for the release of all foreign hostages ″very good news″ but stressed Iraq must abide by all other United Nations demands.
″If he (Saddam) really does what he says he is going to do, it will be very good news,″ said a NATO official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
At the headquarters of the Gulf Support Group in London, spokesman Andy Charles said the relatives of the hostages were ″cautiously optimistic and cautiously delighted, but we’ve had a lot of similar announcements in the past which have not borne fruit.″
Some relatives, however, were more excited.
″I’m over the moon. It’s what we’ve prayed and prayed for,″ said Sue Dorrington, whose husband, David, is being held in Baghdad.
″I have been in tears all morning since I heard the news. I just hope it is true,″ said Linda Grant, part of a group of 30 women related to British Airways employees who planned to go to Baghdad this weekend.
″I am ... shaking like a leaf with relief and high hopes,″ said Deborah Pepper, who was also planning to go to Baghdad to seek the release of her husband John, a British Airways employee.