Saddam cancels exile mission, fearing aide's arrest

But Mubarak in contact, consulting with U.S.

Saturday, January 18, 2003

CAIRO Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has canceled the trip of his top aide to discuss possible exile after learning the U.S. wanted the aide arrested.

However the U.S. State Dept. spokesman Thursday encouraged efforts to convince the Iraqi leader to seek safe haven in another country, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is in contact with Saddam.

The envoy, Ali Hassan Majid, was to have arrived in Cairo on Saturday. Majid was expected to relay a message from Saddam to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak concerning what diplomatic sources termed "personal issues."

Arab diplomatic sources said the Iraqi president shelved plans to explore Arab proposals for his asylum after learning of a U.S. threat to arrestMajid, known as "Chemical Ali," on charges of war crimes.

On Tuesday, Saddam informed Egypt that Majid would not be arriving in Cairo, the sources said. No new date was set.

Majid is a senior member of the Iraqi Revolutionary Council and accused of killing hundreds of thousands of Kurds in chemical weapons attacks by Saddam's military in the 1980s. Majid has been accused of war crimes by the United States and Western human rights groups.

The diplomatic sources said the United States had signaled intentions to demand Majid's arrest in Cairo. They said Egypt had raised the issue of Majid's arrival with the United States in wake of Washington's complaint that Cairo last week had hosted Mohammed (Abu) Abbas, a Palestinian insurgency leader wanted for the killing of an American national in 1985.

Still, Mubarak has maintained contact with Saddam. The sources said Mubarak relayed a message to the Iraqi president through Iraq's charge d'affairs in Cairo, Mohsein Khalil. Khalil left for Iraq on late Wednesday with message from the Egyptian president.

The United States has refused to guarantee that Saddam would not be arrested for war crimes once he enters exile. But publicly, the United States has encouraged efforts to convince Saddam to go into exile.

"It would be a wise choice should he choose to make it," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on Thursday.

Turkey is said to be in the forefront of efforts to convince Saddam to give up power. Ankara plans to convene a meeting with representatives from Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria next week to discuss the effort. After the meeting, the sources said, Saddam might send Majid to Cairo to discuss the exile plan.

Earlier this week, Mubarak and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz focused on scenarios in which Saddam would leave Iraq and be replaced by a pro-Western leader.

"During Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul's recent tour of the Mideast, many proposals and perspectives were discussed," Mubarak said on Wednesday. "We're in close contact with the United States. In order to evaluate these proposals for peace, we need to learn what the United States and Iraq think about them."

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