Jordan resists pressure to close Iraq border

PATRICK COCKBURN

King Hussein of Jordan yesterday accused Iraqi President Saddam Hussein of planning a second invasion of Kuwait, but said he would not close the border with Iraq.

The US has pressed both Turkey and Jordan to seal off Iraq from the outside world, in the belief that this could trigger the collapse of President Saddam's regime. But though the King has shown himself prepared to break with Baghdad, he said he was not willing to go further.

The King said in a televised speech that recent high-level defectors had told him that Iraqi leaders had discussed attacking both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

"There were plans that were discussed days before his defection and on the highest levels of Iraq to attack Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and our view is that only to think of such an act and the possibility of executing it forms a catastrophic disaster for this (Arab) nation," the King said.

But he said Jordan would not close the border because it would cut off food and medicine: "This is a matter that we do not contemplate because we are with the people of Iraq as much as we can until the long night of their suffering ends."

The US is trying to isolate President Saddam further by persuading King Hussein and the Turkish government to cut Iraq's last trade links with the outside world. The aim is to stop oil exports through the two countries, which provide Baghdad with a trickle of hard currency to pay for essential imports.

As the US steps up its efforts to oust the Iraqi leader, senior American envoys have visited Kuwait to persuade the government to provide oil to Jordan to compensate it for the loss of up to 80,000 barrels a day of Iraqi crude. And Kurdish leaders say President Clinton is pressing Ankara to stop the 1,500 or more trucks a day which import diesel fuel from Iraq through Kurdistan.

The US administration has decided that the defection of Saddam Hussein's two sons-in-law provides an opportunity to overthrow him without a popular uprising, say Iraqi opposition sources. They add that if General Hussein Kamel al-Majid, now in Jordan, is to help orchestrate a coup within Iraq "he must act within two or three months before Saddam has re-organised his security forces and made Hussein Kamel's knowledge and contacts out of date".

American action against President Saddam is two-pronged: the economic embargo is being strengthened, and the US is giving more support to forces within the military and political establishment in Baghdad willing to act against him.

Opponents of the regime say the Pentagon is playing an increasing role in the campaign to get rid of the Iraqi leader and has recruited many former CIA officers with experience of Iraq.

In Jordan the US Assistant Secretary of State, Robert Pelletreau, saw King Hussein for the second time in a week on Tuesday after returning from talks with Kuwaiti leaders. In the past Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have ruled out helping King Hussein with oil because of his ambivalent position in the Gulf war.

The desert road to Jordan, down which General Hussein Kamel and his brother fled on 8 August, is Iraq's main lifeline to the outside world. With the agreement of the UN a fleet of oil tankers has ferried Iraqi oil to Jordan since the UN sanctions were imposed after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Also significant for Iraq is the border crossing at Habur on the frontier with Turkey. This is under the control of the Kurds but more than 1,500 trucks a day are picking up 2,000 litres of diesel each in the border town of Zakho and transporting it back into Turkey for resale.

If both the Turkish and Jordanian routes are closed, then President Saddam will probably try to avoid being totally cut off by turning to Iran.

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