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Iraq Considering Bush Offer for Baker-Aziz Talks With PM-Gulf Rdp, Bjt

January 3, 1991

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ The Iraqi government today was considering President Bush’s offer for talks between its foreign minister and Secretary of State James A. Baker III, a Foreign Ministry official said.

The offer was communicated in a meeting today between a Foreign Ministry official and U.S. Charge d’Affaires Joseph C. Wilson IV - Wilson’s first contact with Iraqi officials since Dec. 18. Wilson called the atmosphere of the meeting ″very good,″ but said he had received no response to Bush’s proposal.

Iraqi officials said the offer would be discussed later today or Friday.

″We have a new American proposal, but it is too early to comment. We are studying it,″ an Iraqi Foreign Ministry official said.

Bush made the proposal this morning, saying it was ″an extra step″ intended to resolve the 5-month-old Persian Gulf standoff and to avert war. Under the proposal, Baker would meet with Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz in Switzerland any time from Monday to Wednesday.

Also today, a top adviser to French President Francois Mitterrand arrived in Baghdad. Michel Vauzelle received a low-key reception on arrival.

Only Foreign Ministry protocol officials met him at the airport, and he insisted that his visit was a private one. But Iraqi officials said he would meet later today with Aziz.

″I have come on my own and I do not have any message from President Mitterrand,″ said Vauzelle, president of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Committee. ″But I could not sit as the U.N. deadline approaches, reading newspapers and doing nothing about peace.″

He met Wednesday in Paris with Mitterrand before his departure.

Diplomatic activity has escalated in days leading up to the U.N. Security Council’s Jan. 15 deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait or face a possible U.S.-led military onslaught.

King Hussein of Jordan, a close ally of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, was in London, discussing the prospects of a European Community dialogue with Iraq. The EC foreign ministers were scheduled to discuss the gulf crisis at a meeting in Luxembourg on Friday.

Leaders of Syria and Egypt, Hafez Assad and Hosni Mubarak, flew to Libya for a summit meeting with Libya’s leader, Col. Moammar Gadhafi, and Sudan’s Omar el-Bashir. Their talks were expected to focus on the gulf crisis.

Both the U.S. Embassy and the Iraqi Foreign Ministry declined to comment on U.S.-Iraqi contact reportedly initiated by U.S. Charge d’Affaires Joseph Wilson in connection with Bush’s offer to hold direct talks.

The diplomatic sources would not say who Wilson contacted, but analysts believed it was deputy Foreign Minister Nizar Hamdoun, a career diplomat who served for several years as ambassador to Washington.

An official at Hamdoun’s office would not comment about the reported contact. He said Hamdoun was not available for comment.

In his initial offer last month to send Baker to Baghdad, Bush said his envoy would try to persuade the Iraqis to withdraw unconditionally from Kuwait, which they invaded on Aug. 2, and not to work out a compromise.

The Iraqis have refused to withdraw. But Saddam has said a compromise might be possible if the issue was linked to an Israeli withdrawal from Arab territories. The United States has rejected any such linkage.

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