Heath urges new Iraq links

LONDON (PA) - Sir Edward Heath yesterday called on Britain to resume diplomatic links with Iraq. The former prime minister spoke within 48 hours of his return from Baghdad, where he secured the release of three Britons who were serving long prison sentences for allegedly straying over the Iraqi border or for visa offences.

Sir Edward said the Russian charge d'affaires was looking after British interests in Iraq and doing the job perfectly well. 'But why do our activities have to be handled by the Russian charge?' he asked on BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend. 'Our ambassador in Amman and his staff do everything they can from outside. It is not the same thing as being there on the spot and being able to use our judgement about what is going on.'

Sanctions made it impossible to fly into Baghdad, so he was driven there from Amman, the Jordanian capital. 'It seems an unnecessary obstacle in the way of people getting down to business,' he said.

Sir Edward said talks should start with Tariq Aziz, the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, about a solution. 'I can quite understand American resentment that they did not get rid of Saddam. But this is a fact of life.'

The current position was alienating many other Middle Eastern countries that wanted to resume business with Iraq. 'Iraq is not the only one who is suffering with these arrangements,' Sir Edward said.

His personal physician, Dr Jeffrey Easton, had had talks with the Iraqi health minister, officials and doctors in Baghdad.

He added: 'It is quite obvious that they are desperately in need of humanitarian assistance. We are not thinking about medicine for the regime. We are thinking about medicine for the nearly 20 million people who are in Iraq. What are their reactions to not getting it? The shortages are acute. I have a whole list of them in front of me.'

Asked if he wanted an end to sanctions now, he said: 'Not until the UN resolutions have been complied with. What I want is to get on with the resolutions.'