Russian Ex-Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov visited Baghdad before the war on Vladimir Putin's personal order
Russia's President Vladimir Putin appealed to Saddam Hussein just before the war to resign from Iraqi presidency and so ward off the war danger, Yevgeny Primakov announced to the media today.
President of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and once Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Primakov visited Baghdad on the eve of war on Vladimir Putin's personal order to meet with Saddam Hussein.
" 'If you love your country and nation, if you want it to avoid inevitable bloodshed, you ought to resign from presidency.' That's what I told him." As the talk was only starting, Yevgeny Primakov pointed out that what he would say was an oral message from the Russian President.
"I said I was fully aware of just how serious the proposal was, and how it might change his [Saddam's] entire life - but then, he was to realise that he had to do that for his nation." President Putin called Mr. Primakov, in the small hours of March 17 to ask him urgently to come to the Kremlin, where he ordered Primakov to fly to Baghdad the same morning. Once in Iraq, Primakov demanded a personal conference with Saddam Hussein. They promptly met in one of Saddam's palaces. Primakov asked to make it an eye-to-eye talk - to give the Iraqi leader "elbowroom to manoeuvre", he says now.
Saddam Hussein heard him out in silence, next to ask the visitor to repeat his message for Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and the parliament Speaker. Primakov said he would do so. Yevgeny Primakov strongly called Saddam Hussein to address the Iraqi parliament with an initiative for a countryside democratic election so to ward off an impending disaster.
When the first Gulf war was in prospect, many tried to coax him into stepping down, too - but the war broke out, all the same, the Iraqi leader replied to that. "Then, he gave me a slap on the shoulder, and left," says Primakov.
As they were in conference, he pointed out that Iraq was to do everything to promote international inspectors' work. "Hussein met us halfway in that. Iraq started destroying its banned missiles after our conversation - something it had been refusing to do previously." "I am openly speaking about the conference now not because the press is alleging that I attempted to get certain archives out of Iraq. I am making the conversation public to show that Russia and Vladimir Putin, its President, were doing all they could down to the last instant to prevent the appalling war," Yevgeny Primakov said emphatically.
Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs later notified leading Arab countries about his mission, and they gave him a positive response. Those countries' envoys were willing to promote the Russian initiative and go to Baghdad. Several Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Amr Moussa, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, meant to do so - but Saddam Hussein chose not to admit them to Baghdad, said Mr. Primakov.
"We do not know now what fruit the war may bring irrespective of its present-day intermediate results," he remarked.