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Context of 'August 1-2, 1990: US Diplomat Wilson Works to Avoid Escalation of Iraq-Kuwait Conflict'

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Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson is in charge of the US Embassy in Baghdad after US Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie departed for her twice-delayed annual vacation to the US (see July 31, 1990). At 2:30 a.m., local time, Wilson is awakened by a phone call from Washington. The operator tells him, “Mr. Wilson, I have the White House on the line.” Wilson, assuming he is going to speak directly to the president, finds himself standing at attention, stark naked in the middle of his bedroom. Instead, the line goes dead. (Phone service in Iraq is unreliable at best, and the Iraqis often cut service to the embassy phones.) Wilson calls Sandra Charles, a National Security Council specialist on the Middle East, and Charles tells him that she is receiving reports that the US Embassy in Kuwait City, Kuwait, is being surrounded by hostile Iraqi troops (see August 2, 1990). At 7:30 a.m., Wilson, having gotten dressed, pounds on the door of Iraq’s Foreign Minister, Tariq Aziz. The two have what Wilson will later recall as a forceful exchange, and Aziz agrees to restore phone service to the embassy. More pertinently, Wilson tells Aziz that the US is flatly opposed to any military moves against Kuwait. “It seems to me that with your army in Kuwait City and my navy in the Gulf we have an obligation to avoid any escalation of this crisis if we can,” Wilson tells Aziz. A member of the embassy staff later recalls being impressed with Wilson’s political dexterity. “I always knew Joe was bright,” the former staffer recalls, “but he really showed here he could be quick on his feet. That was a pretty smart way to handle the situation.” The meeting with Aziz is the first of many diplomatic efforts Wilson will make over the next few weeks to defuse the situation (see August 2-4, 1990) and protect the Americans in Iraq and Kuwait, whom Wilson fears will be taken hostage by Iraqi forces. [Vanity Fair, 1/2004]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, April Glaspie, Tariq Aziz, National Security Council, Sandra Charles

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

US diplomat Joseph Wilson meets with Iraq’s Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz and asks what Iraq intends to do with the thousands of US citizens in Iraq and Kuwait if the US Embassy decides that most of its personnel should leave. Wilson wants to ensure that no more Americans will be captured and used as hostages (see August 4, 1990, August 8, 1990, and August 17-23, 1990). Wilson is particularly concerned about the 2,000 or so Americans in Kuwait. Aziz says that Iraq will honor its obligations under the Geneva and Vienna Conventions, which specify that innocent civilians must be allowed to leave a war zone and not be held against their will. Wilson informs his State Department superiors in Washington of Aziz’s promises and recommends that every American be moved out of Kuwait as soon as possible—if not out of the region entirely, then at least to Baghdad. Wilson has little confidence in Aziz’s assurances, calling the minister a “lying son of a b_tch” in his communique. Wilson later learns that the decision goes all the way to President Bush, who decides to follow Wilson’s recommendation and order all but the ambassador, Nat Howell, and a skeleton staff to abandon the Kuwait embassy. The US wants to keep the Kuwait embassy open to show that it does not accept Iraq’s claim that Kuwait is no longer a sovereign state and therefore does not warrant its own diplomatic representation from other countries. By August 24, around 120 Americans, many of them diplomats and staffers from the Kuwait embassy, and their families, arrive at the US Embassy in Baghdad. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 135-137]

Entity Tags: George Herbert Walker Bush, Geneva Conventions, US Department of State, Tariq Aziz, Nat Howell, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Iraqi officials break their promise to allow the 120 or so Americans who have recently arrived in Baghdad from Kuwait (see August 17, 1990) to leave the country. Ranking US diplomat Joseph Wilson is furious. He storms into the Iraqi Foreign Ministry and, failing to find Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, leaves a message for the minister calling him a liar (he substitutes the word “prevaricator” when the Iraqi protocol official suggests using a less inflammatory term). Wilson and his Baghdad embassy colleagues turn their attention to getting the Kuwaiti embassy staffers and their families out of the country, with first priority going to the women and children. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 138]

Entity Tags: Tariq Aziz, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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