Hussein denies Iraq intends to quit Kuwait Ruling council takes tough line in wake of rumors


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- In a sharp indication that his policy toward occupied Kuwait will be no softer in the new year than it was in the old, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein repudiated speculation yesterday that he might pull his troops out of Kuwait before a Jan. 15 United Nations deadline for withdrawal.

The government issued his hard-line statement after a morning meeting of Mr. Hussein and the Revolutionary Command Council, his ruling inner circle. The communique characterized reports of a January pullout as "distortions and fabrications circulated by certain mercenary newspapers and vicious circles outside Iraq."

Rumors have circulated in Baghdad for several weeks that Mr. Hussein might, in the name of peace, organize mass demonstrations toclamor for a retreat from Kuwait.

In addition, some radio reports in Europe have lately cited unidentified Egyptian diplomatic sources as saying that Iraq was considering a proposal by Washington that Iraqi forces pull out of Kuwait in exchange for assurances that no attack against Iraq was undertaken by multinational forces deployed in the Persian Gulf.

"That the Iraqi leadership would, before the enemy's evil date, withdraw from the province of Kuwait or that it would organize a demonstration to urge the leadership to give up Kuwait and keep the danger away is a mere ill thought found only in the minds of evil planners and their dubious circles," the communique said.

"All in Iraq believe that Kuwait is the 19th province."

The statement repeated Iraq's insistence that any peace talks deal not only with Kuwait, but also with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"We believe that peace can be realized only through dialogue based on equality and not through launching threats and massing forces," the statement said.

Plans for talks between the United States and Iraq broke down over a dispute about scheduling.

From Iraq's point of view, any date for talks that takes account of the Jan. 15 deadline is unacceptable. Baghdad called for a Jan. 12 meeting between Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Mr. Hussein, but Washington objected to a date that close to the deadline, maintaining that it might mask a ruse to evade the U.N. ultimatum altogether.

Iraqi officials said yesterday that no meaningful international contact was at present taking place on the issue. "If we want to have a meaningful dialogue, we should forget about Jan. 15 and just proceed," said government spokesman Naji Hadithi.

He rejected President Bush's oft-repeated statement that any U.S.-Iraqi talks would be held only to stress to the Iraqi authorities that the Jan. 15 deadline was a serious one. "To hear about the U.N., we don't need Bush," Mr. Hadithi said.

[The rumor about secret U.S.-Iraqi talks originated with a report by Radio Monte Carlo, according to the Associated Press.

[Radio Monte Carlo quoted unidentified diplomatic sources in Egypt as saying that Iraq was considering some ideas proposed by Washington. The radio said these included Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait in exchange for assurances that it would not be attacked by the U.S.-led multinational force, which is expected to total more than a half-million troops by the end of January.]

It was not clear to foreign observers in Baghdad just why the Iraqi government was so eager to dismiss rumors that it termed baseless. There are plenty of rumors running around Baghdad, including one predicting that the civilian airport will close Jan. 10 for conversion into a military base.

With the U.N. deadline less than three weeks off, diplomatic possibilities are vague. France has indicated that it might put forward a peace initiative after Jan. 3 if Baghdad and Washington are still at odds over their own talks.

Algeria's president, Chadli Benjedid, may make another swing through the Middle East to try to find common ground between Iraq and its Arab adversaries, especially Saudi Arabia. Early in December, he traveled to Baghdad, other Arab capitals, Iran, Paris and Madrid, Spain, to explore the chances for talks.

Yesterday, Yugoslav Foreign Minister Budimir Loncar visited Baghdad on a peace initiative requested by the Non-Aligned Movement, which Yugoslavia currently leads, Cairo radio said. Mr. Loncar was expected to meet with Mr. Hussein and top Iraqi officials.

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