Moscow Offers Plan to Prevent War and Rescue Saddam

German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder makes a lightening, unscheduled trip to Moscow Wednesday, February 26, heading back home the same evening. What urgent business takes Schroeder to the Russian capital?
According to debkafile‘s intelligence and Russian sources, Russian President Vladimir Putin has stepped into the bipolar crisis over Iraq between the US-led and French-led world blocs with a dramatic proposition for averting war. In this approach, he sees eye to eye with the French, German and Chinese rulers and is eager to consult with the Schroeder on his new plan.
But first, he tried selling it to Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein. For this mission, he fielded one of Moscow’s diplomatic heavyweights, Yevgeny Primakov. KGB chief Middle East resident in the 1970s, Soviet foreign minister and Russian prime minister under Yeltsin, Primakov is also a longtime close personal friend of the Iraqi dictator from the old days of the Soviet Union.
Primakov landed in Baghdad on Saturday, February 22.
The candy for Saddam in the Russian proposal was that it could provide him with a lifebelt to save himself from being obliterated; although he would have to leave Baghdad with his family and ruling clique, he need not be pushed completely off the Iraqi political map.
Primakov was understood by our sources to have spent 10 hours on Sunday, February 23 with Saddam Hussein at his palace in Tirkit, flying home Monday, February 24, after they met for a final conversation.
debkafile‘s most exclusive sources accessed the Putin proposal for Iraq and reveals its high points:
1. Acceptance of the plan by Saddam and Washington – with UN endorsement – will result in the United States calling off its war offensive against Iraq.
2. Saddam will be required to immediately dismantle and destroy all his weapons of mass destruction, that arsenal being checked against Russia’s lists and compared with American data. (debkafile notes incidentally that Russian generals and intelligence chiefs have consistently claimed until now that Saddam does not possess a single WMD!)
3. Saddam stays on as president for approximately one year.
4. In the course of the disarmament process, a transitional government will be established in Baghdad with no affinity to the ruling Baath or Saddam’s ruling circle. It will officiate one year under international oversight, draft a new Iraqi constitution and arrange a general election.
5. The election over, Saddam will retire and make way for the newly-elected regime.
6. He and his family, together with his top political and military circle, will move out of Baghdad and take up residence at an internationally protected palace compound near Tharthar Lake north of Tikrit. He will be allowed to move in and out of this palace under certain restrictions.
We have heard that Primakov made it clear to the Iraqi ruler that, despite some limitations on his movements and those of his entourage, he would not be a prisoner. He would be allowed to come and go under certain conditions.
The Russian emissary also emphasized that the fortune Saddam has stashed away in foreign banks will not be impounded or frozen. In short, Saddam was given to understand by his Russian visitor that while the regime would pass out of his hands and that of the Baath to fresh political forces, including leaders of the opposition who fought his rule, he, Saddam Hussein, would not be bereft of influence in the country and would retain the financial wherewithal for being a player in future Iraq politics.
debkafile‘s sources have not revealed Saddam’s reply to the proposal. They report that Primakov, on his return to Moscow, went straight over to Putin to brief him on his mission.
The next day, two Russian emissaries headed out of Moscow to Washington and Paris to brief Presidents Bush and Chirac and test the water for a sign that the Putin initiative was worth pursuing.
Putin’s plan also came up in the talks US Undersecretary of State John Bolton held with Russian officials Monday in Moscow, after which he announced he had been unable to convince his hosts to back the US-led UN Security Council resolution authorizing force against Iraq. Moscow, like Beijing, made no promises about applying its power of veto to defeat the resolution.
This diplomatic flurry has encouraged Saddam Hussein to believe he has between two and three weeks to play with before deciding which way to jump to survive. Going for him are the Putin plan, the Franco-German counter-initiative to the US-backed Security Council motion – which offers the arms inspectors another four months for their mission; the Arab summit convening in Cairo Saturday, March 1 – amid sore divisions over Iraq; and the spiraling controversy between Turkey and the Kurds of northern Iraq, who threaten to fight any Turkish troops entering Kurdistan.
In the meantime, Iraq – as UK foreign secretary Jack Straw put it – “dribbles out concessions,” as part of his dilatory tactics.

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