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PREWAR MESSAGE TO IRAQ DISPUTED
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PREWAR MESSAGE TO IRAQ DISPUTED

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Pentagon officials reportedly tried _ and failed _ to block a message from President Bush to Saddam Hussein because they thought it gave Saddam the go-ahead to invade Kuwait.

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Days before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, senior Pentagon officials sought to block a message from President Bush to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein they feared was so weakly worded that it would send a signal that the United States was not determined to stand up to Iraqi aggression.

The previously undisclosed dispute in late July 1990 within the Bush administration about how to deal with the Iraqi leader occurred as Saddam's troops massed on the Kuwaiti border.Although the Pentagon's effort to draft a sterner message did not succeed, senior administration officials later became concerned that their diplomacy had not worked and on the eve of the invasion discussed sending a second, stronger presidential statement to Saddam. Before they could so do, Iraq had launched its Aug. 2 attack.

The disclosures bear on the election-year debate about whether the Bush administration did all it could to deter the Iraqis from invading Kuwait.

The administration's policy toward Iraq had been based on a directive issued by President Bush in October 1989, to use economic and political incentives to moderate Saddam's behavior.

Bush has vigorously defended his diplomacy, saying that his aim was to ``bring Saddam Hussein into the family of nations.'

But a reconstruction of events in the week leading up to Iraq's invasion, based on interviews with former and current administration officials, shows that some senior administration officials had grave reservations at the time about the White House's diplomatic efforts.

``We were already seeing troops moving,' said Henry Rowen, then assistant defense secretary for international security affairs. ``We were getting worried, and we were putting up this piece of pap. It was just very weak. We should have been much more threatening.'

Rowen, a Republican, also said that Iraq's invasion of Kuwait might have been averted had Washington taken a tougher line.

Senior Pentagon officials, including Paul Wolfowitz, undersecretary of defense for policy, reportedly shared Rowen's concerns.

A senior White House official disputed Rowen's analysis, arguing that Bush's message came after Iraqi statements that Baghdad was interested in negotiating a settlement of its disputes with the Kuwaitis. The official said the communication was consistent with advice that Washington was receiving from its Arab allies.

``We were being told by Mubarak and by King Hussein, 'Hey, don't worry about it,' ' the senior White House official said, referring to President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan.

Baker asked iraq to talk to PLO

White House chief of staff James A. Baker III asked Iraq to help convince the PLO to support his 1989 peace plan for Palestinian negotiations with Israel, documents show. In return, he promised $1 billion in U.S. grain credits, despite growing evidence that Iraq had abused the farm aid program.

The request for Iraq's intervention with the Palestine Liberation Organization adds another piece to the puzzle of why the Bush administration persisted in efforts to improve ties with President Saddam Hussein despite evidence that that the Iraqi leader was amassing a nuclear arsenal and using poison gas against his own people.

It also sheds light on Baker's determination to bring about Arab-Israeli negotiations. The documents released by the Senate Agriculture Committee portray Baker, who was secretary of state until August, as the driving force behind the aid program for Iraq.

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