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When Kofi met Saddam
From The Sunday Telegraph - 15/09/2002

The UN Secretary-General is this weekend at the forefront of the international campaign to persuade the Iraqi dictator to destroy his weapons of mass destruction. WILLIAM SHAWCROSS accompanied Kofi Annan on his last mission to Baghdad. Here is his astonishing account of Saddam's negotiating style

An hour into the meeting between Kofi Annan and Saddam Hussein on Sunday, February 22, 1998, the Iraqi president stood up and said to the UN secretary general: "I think you can work out the details with Tariq."

Tariq was Tariq Aziz, the Iraqi deputy prime minister with whom Annan had already spent hours of negotiations. "This was my nightmare," Annan told me. Aziz did not have the authority to make crucial decisions; only Saddam Hussein had that. Annan believed it vital that he have a one-on-one meeting with Saddam if he was to reach an agreement; now it looked as if that would not happen.

In the previous hour Annan and Saddam had smoked cigars as they and their officials discussed, among other matters, the relative merits of Iraqi and Algerian dates. Annan had congratulated Saddam on the reconstruction of Iraq since the Gulf war. Saddam had told him that, a few days before, he had gone out on one of his palace's balconies in order to speak to it. "You are so beautiful, palace," he said. "It would really be a great pity if you were destroyed. But if it has to happen we won't really care."

Annan said that during his stopover in Paris on the way to Baghdad he had met President Chirac, who had sent his greetings to President Hussein and expressed great esteem for Iraq. Saddam said he admired Chirac for his insight and knowledge.

Saddam had taken Annan through a litany of complaints about the way in which the world had treated Iraq. He spoke of the humanitarian problems created by the economic sanctions imposed by the UN and still in force because Iraq was not deemed to have disarmed as required after the Gulf war. He complained of the intrusion of the UN inspectors' pursuit of banned weapons. Iraq's dignity and sovereignty had to be respected, he said. He had been mild, if not affable. But he had come nowhere near to agreeing to the continued inspections that Annan had come to seek. To have any hope of getting such an agreement, Annan knew that he had to see him alone. Otherwise, he would leave Baghdad empty-handed, his own authority and that of the UN diminished, if not destroyed. With the failure of diplomacy, the United States and Britain would start bombing Iraq, with consequences unknown.

Next morning he met Aziz and gave him a draft memorandum of understanding, along the lines he wanted to sign with Saddam. He told him of the red lines the permanent five members of the security council had given to him. Aziz replied, "Yes, we also have some red lines." These included the insistence that one-time inspections were all that was allowed. Annan saw that there was still a conflict.

All Saturday was taken up with arguments over the wording of a draft memorandum for Annan and Iraq to sign. The preamble to paragraph 4, dealing with the inspections, was a big problem. Aziz insisted that "inspection" was insulting to Iraq. He asked for the word "visit" instead.

Annan said: "You can't have 'visit'. People will wonder if we're coming for tea. That's a very weak word."

The talks continued, fruitlessly, all day Saturday. By 2am on Sunday morning there was still no agreement. Annan insisted on going to bed. Aziz suggested another meeting before Annan was due to meet with Saddam at midday. Annan said no. Next morning he ordered his staff to prepare two press releases - one announcing success, the other failure - and went to meet Saddam in a car sent by Saddam's own security detail.

Annan had no idea where he was being taken. Saddam's whereabouts were always secret. The destination could have been in the desert or in a completely different part of the country. In fact, it was near the villa in which he was staying in one of the new palaces Saddam had built since the end of the Gulf war.

Annan carried a list of "talking points" prepared by his staff. They suggested that he remind Saddam Hussein of the difficulties he had had in making this trip possible. Annan had come not as a messenger of anyone, but as the secretary general of the United Nations "fully conscious of my moral and legal responsibility to help avoid tragedy".

When he returned to New York he had to report to the Security Council. "And I'll be faced with questions on practically every word and every comma of our agreement," his talking points advised him to say. "I appeal to your statesmanship, your courage, your wisdom and your vision to clear the remaining hurdles and enable me to go back to the UN HQ with an agreement that opens the way to the creation of those conditions that will allow Iraq to return to normality."

His talking points then suggested: "Listen to the president's reaction, which will probably focus on injustices perceived by Iraq, and may take a defiant line. Then resume: "I understand your concerns about the situation you face, but our discussions over the last two days demonstrate that Iraq is now fully aware of what is at stake. The differences between us can be bridged."

THERE WERE guards everywhere. Some were in military garb, and some were dressed like Swiss Guards in brightly coloured uniforms with helmets. They held spears crossed archway fashion for Annan and his party to walk through.

Saddam greeted them, wearing what Annan described as an elegant double-breasted blue suit with matching tie. Annan was glad that Saddam was not, as often, in military dress.

When they began their tete-a-tete, Saddam said that it was time sanctions were lifted. Annan said he could understand, but told Saddam, "Basically it's in your hands. If you co-operate, then you will see light at the end of the tunnel. If we don't come to an agreement, the US will use force and nobody can stop them. There are governments who say they support you, but they will not be able to stop the US."

Annan flattered Saddam. "You're a builder, you built modern Iraq. It was destroyed once. You've rebuilt it. Do you want to destroy it again? Look how you talk about the suffering of your people. It's in your hands, we can do something about this. If we can work out an agreement that will prevent military action and you would undertake to comply, it will save the day."

Annan recalled later that Hussein had listened, then brought out his yellow pad and started making notes. This meant that Annan could not speak eyeball to eyeball. On the other hand, he thought that perhaps something was getting through.

As they went over and over the issues, Annan told him that obviously all the governments that had approached him had friendly intentions. Saddam should take advantage of this by working with other governments to stabilise the region. Annan said, "You've taken some courageous decisions. Some of them have been miscalculated, but this time around there's history to consider. In 1991, you didn't know. Now you know what happened in '91. You know whathas happened on several other occasions. And this time, let me tell you, you'll be hit and hit very hard. All the reconstruction you've done will be gone and you'll have to start again. Think of the suffering of your people. You say that an attack will end the inspections. Maybe, but the impact on your people, and on the region, will be disastrous."

It was becoming an exhausting encounter. Annan said later he felt that he had to try to reason with Saddam, to tell him what was at stake, to try to convince him. "I had to really draw on all my inner resources - creativity and stamina and almost a spiritual courage - to really engage him in this. So at the end it was very draining," Annan said.

At one point Hussein told Annan, "I know you're a courageous man." This encouraged Annan to believe that he was getting through to him. "He realised that I had taken risks to do what I was doing."

After almost three hours Saddam said, "You seem determined to solve this problem. Many people have failed to solve it - the Russians, the French, the Egyptians, the Turks. If you manage to solve it, it will be your victory."

"No, Mr President," Annan said, "it will not be my victory, it will be your victory, your decision, it's in your hands. It will be victory for the Iraqi people, victory for the region. Not my victory. So let's do it together, let's find a solution. Work with me to find it."

They turned back to the draft memorandum. Saddam did not have an Arabic translation in his hand, but he spoke very precisely from memory. "When I look at the agreement, everything that is in the interests of the UN is written in crisp, sharp language." And he pointed to paragraph three in Annan's English text: "The government undertakes to accord immediate unconditional unrestricted access."

Saddam continued, "But anything that affects Iraq is in wishy-washy, loose language. You offer me nothing."

One of the remaining problems was over the word "inspections" of the presidential sites. Saddam said, "Tariq has already told you, we cannot
accept 'inspections'; we can use the word 'visits'."

Annan replied, "I can't accept that. It's too loose, it will not be

He reminded Saddam that he was speaking for the Security Council. "So you are negotiating not just with me but also with them. They are the ones I have to convince - and the rest of the international community. So you don't want 'inspections' and I don't accept 'visits' - and we have to find a formula."

Annan recalled that he then said, "That gives me an idea. Shall I try aformulation on you?" Saddam replied, "Yes."

Annan said, "What if I use 'initial and subsequent entries for the performance of the tasks mandated'? "

Saddam responded, "I agree." Annan wrote it down and showed it to him. He said, "Agreed."

Annan then said, "Mr President, now that the two of us have cleared the text, can we call in the others and tell them that we have an agreement?"

Hussein replied, "OK, call them in." Tariq Aziz and his colleagues, along with Annan's colleagues, returned.

Annan asked, "Do you go first or I go first?"

Saddam answered: "You go first."

"We have an agreement, we have a text," said Annan. He took them through the changes, and then Saddam said, "Fine, you and Tariq finalise it."

"And that was it," said Annan later. "After another orange juice, we shook hands and left."

As he said goodbye, Saddam said, "I want to thank you for coming to Baghdad personally. You must feel free to come here. You can even come for a holiday, if it won't embarrass you."

AS WE SAT in his dining room on the thirty-eighth floor of the United Nations headquarters, I asked Annan, How does a good man deal with devils?

"Well, who are the really bad people I've negotiated with? Aideed in Somalia was one. I didn't spend much time with Karadjic and Mladic. Mladic looks very mean. Karadjic has a funny air about him, sort of a bit arty, and if you are not careful, you might think he's an absentminded elderly hippie.

"These people can be very deceptive. When you get one-on-one with them, they can be interesting and have an easy smile, yet you know what they're capable of. You think, 'how can they smile and yet do all these things?'.

"Saddam is very calm and polite. You wouldn't think he was capable of what he has done. One of my staff, a pastor's son, said he felt that he was in front of an evil man. But I don't think the others had that feeling. He looks like somebody's uncle. But if you mistake his calmness, soft-spokenness for weakness, you're in trouble."

Annan had thought that he could appeal to Saddam's vanity as the "builder of modern Iraq". He believed that Saddam's personal commitment to the secretary general would make a difference. It did not; his agreement to Annan's memorandum was merely tactical. Saddam continued to defy the "international community'.

This extract is taken from Deliver Us From Evil: Warlords and Peacekeepers in a World of Endless Conflict, by William Shawcross (Bloomsbury)

Copyright 2002 The Telegraph Group Limited