Baker Twists Arms of Yemen, Colombia and Malaysia


James A. Baker III

The following text is an excerpt from James A. Baker III, The Politics of Diplomacy: Revolution, War and Peace, 1989-1992
(New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1995), pp. 317-320

In the following excerpt from his autobiography, Baker reveals some interesting details of his arm-twisting meetings with the officials of three countries with seats on the Security Council. We learn that Baker warned Yemeni president Saleh that the US would cut off its $70 million aid package if Yemen voted against and we see how Baker dismissively considers references to Palestine as "troublesome" and "patently obstructionist." In the second meeting, Baker told President Gaviria of Colombia that the United States was not pleased with the statements of his UN ambassador and urged that Colombia and the US, "representing our hemisphere, not be separated." Finally, in a meeting with the Malaysian Foreign Minister, who has been summoned to Los Angeles, Baker brushes off references to Palestine and warns the Malaysians that voting the wrong way would damage Malaysia's bilateral relations with the United States. Certainly, Baker said far more in these meetings than he has chosen to report in his autobiography.

[On November 22, 1990] I left [Jeddah] for the Yemeni capital of San'a, hoping to persuade the Yemenis to vote with us on the resolution. I knew it was a long shot. There was a long history of bad blood between the Saudis and the Yemenis, made worse by Yemen's condemnation of King Fahd for inviting foreign troops into the kingdom. The Saudis had retaliated by tightening regulations on foreign workers, thus forcing hundreds of thousands of Yemenis to return home. It was pretty clear the Yemenis were not going to vote with us, and the Saudis correctly told me I was wasting my time going there.

Yemen was also the architect of a troublesome attempt within the Security Council to press for a resolution long sought by the Palestinian Liberation Organization to extend U.N. protection for Palestinians living in Israel's occupied territories. Among other elements, they wanted the United Nations to appoint a commissioner to monitor treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It was an old idea, supported by many nonaligned nations, but its proponents were now pressing for a Security Council vote before the use-of-force resolution. If they were successful in forcing a vote, the United States might well have to exercise a veto. That would cause us difficulties with some of our Arab partners, and lend credibility to Saddam's strategy of couching the crisis in Arab-Israeli terms. While concentrating on the use-of-force resolution, American diplomacy also had to find a means to block early consideration of a territories resolution that was patently obstructionist.

I reminded President Ali Abdullah Saleh that the United States had not put the unified Yemen on the terrorism list, even though South Yemen had been listed before its merger with the north. I also reminded him that we had urged the Saudis to lighten up on the Yemenis, to no avail. "We cannot understand your lack of cooperation with us on the Security Council," I said. I wanted them to know that they would pay a price if they continued to push a course of action at the United Nations that we considered unacceptable. Yemen was risking $70 million a year in U.S. foreign aid by its behavior. He seemed far less concerned about the Gulf crisis than I believed the situation warranted. "This is like a summer storm. It will blow over." He insisted. "The storm, if it comes, will be violent," I replied.

. . . Following our trip to the old city, my traveling party and I had our Thanksgiving Day lunch with President Saleh. He couldn't have been more hospitable, although we had mutton rather than turkey as might have been expected. Then we went outside to meet the press, where he delivered a resounding no to the resolution. I had not expected his support, but he had given me no indication in private that he would reject my request quite so firmly in public.

I returned to Jeddah that night and received word that the Malaysian Foreign Minister had agreed to meet me in either Los Angeles, Houston, or somewhere in the Pacific. I decided to fly from Bogotá – where I was to meet with President Cesar Gaviria Trujillo, not only to solicit his vote but to let Gaviria know we weren't pleased with the action of his U.N. Ambassador, who had complained publicly about our policy toward Iraq – to Los Angeles and meet the Malaysians at the airport.

After an eight-hour flight to the Azores for refueling, we flew all night to Bogotá, where we rode in from the airport in blue armored Suburbans, a testament to the drug cartels' campaign of terror. "I quite frankly have been dismayed at the ideas advanced in New York by your mission," I said to Gaviria. "These ideas have the potential of undermining all that we in the Council and the coalition arrayed against Saddam have worked so hard to achieve. I encourage you to share your ideas with us before they are put in writing and distributed widely in the U.N. system. Such consultations will avoid the perception that there is a split between the U.S. and Columbia in the Security Council." As Columbia's U.N. Ambassador [Luis Fernando Jaramillo], who had flown in from New York to join the meeting squirmed, Gaviria clearly noted by irritation.

I explained the details of our resolution, including the language of all necessary means. "It's important that Colombia and the United States, representing our hemisphere, not be separated. It would be extremely disappointing." "The way this problem is solved is crucial for all humanity," he replied. "We have exactly the same goals as you. At the end, we will vote with you. We will find a way." But he was looking for a fig leaf for Saddam. "It's important that Saddam Hussein feel that he is getting something when he gets out like the [U.S.] military leaving the area."

"Saving face is hard to distinguish from rewarding brutal aggression," I replied. "We cannot fall into the trap of partial solutions." I left Bogotá with Gaviria's personal commitment to vote with us firmly in hand, secure in the knowledge that the mischief making of the Colombian Ambassador in New York was about to cease.

After reaching Cartagena, we flew for seven hours to Los Angeles for our airport meeting with the Malaysian Foreign Minister Abu Hassan, who I knew would be a hard sell. With a proud and often difficult Islamic government, the Malaysians were also pushing for the occupied-territories resolution. They resented having to fly thirty hours from Malaysia to see me, and were understandably exhausted.

From the moment the Foreign Minister began by dryly noting that "we would have preferred to have seen you in Malaysia." I knew this meeting would be prickly. He had his brief down well; his lengthy instructions had been typed on hotel stationery, then annotated. "I must express frankly our unhappiness with the U.S. approach in west Asia," he scolded. "You are spearheading this move to punish Iraq. We need to talk about Israeli aggression against Palestinians. We will study your resolution very carefully, but we cannot support sanctions for the virtual destruction of Iraq."

"This resolution gives us the only hope for trying to find a peaceful end to the situation," I replied. "We do not want to spill American blood in the desert. There is great risk for Americans and for this administration."

"Are you proposing a threat of war?" he asked.

The resolution we are suggesting at the United Nations, I said, would be general in nature. "It would not mention the word force, and it would not mention the word military. We are not seeking a resolution that requires force." The Malaysians wanted sanctions to be given more time, so I repeated my standard arguments. "I don't believe sanctions will do it for a long time . . . We cannot maintain our forces at this magnitude in the desert. Big countries should not be allowed to roll over small countries."

"It is meant to say to Saddam Hussein, ‘you will be thrown out one way or the other,' I personally spent fourteen months on an Arab-Israeli peace plan, but I believe strongly that you cannot link these two issues or you will make Saddam Hussein a hero."

After an extended discussion on legal points, the Foreign Minister ended a very tough, unyielding presentation by inquiring, "I hope that our position on this will not spill over into our bilateral relationship." I was happy for the opening to suggest that in light of recent world events, it might be prudent to consider one's future relations with the United States very carefully. "The only way to answer that," I replied, "is to say this is really important to us and to the world and should be important to you, Mr. Minister." Suddenly there was a dead silence in the room. You could have heard a pin drop. For the first time, I thought he had absorbed just how serious we were about this.


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