IRAQ'S Saddam Hussein can be bargained with in the Persian Gulf crisis, and he should be bargained with, say some top negotiators in the United States. The process would ``start with the condition that he doesn't get anything that he couldn't have gotten by peaceful means,'' says Roger Fisher, director of The Harvard Negotiation Project and author, with William L. Ury, of the book, ``Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.''
``But given all that has happened, you also must now build that proverbial golden bridge over which Saddam Hussein can retreat, and this latter element doesn't appear to be on the agenda yet,'' he continues.
Backed into a corner
``I'm very concerned,'' says Mr. Fisher, a professor of international law who helped former Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance design the negotiating process used to achieve the Camp David Middle East peace accords of September 1978.
``The West, including the action of the United Nations Security Council, which includes the Soviet Union, has given the appearance of escalating demands on Baghdad in a way that makes an acceptable settlement unobtainable.''
Fisher says he is also worried that the summit this weekend between President George Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev could back Saddam further into a corner.
``We know Saddam Hussein has blood on his hands. We know he is a dangerous tyrant. But he isn't a Hitler. He's already indicated that he can be flexible, by the recent arrangement with Iran. But most of the negotiations so far have been through the media,'' Fisher says.
``What is urgently needed ... is for a competent negotiator to draw up a list of promises that could be made to the Iraqi leader in exchange for his willingness to pull his troops out of Kuwait and to release all of the hostages.''
Fisher says the list of proposals would need an endorsement from the UN Security Council.
``I believe, frankly, that the man is now afraid that he will be bombed even if he does pull out of Kuwait.''
Mr. Ury agrees with Fisher. ``Saddam Hussein is a classic bully. He's calculating, he understands and uses power. He must be shown there's no benefit to aggression. He must be shown that his best alternative to a negotiated agreement is only a continued blockade and possibly war. Of course, there's no certainty negotiation will work. However, it must be tried,'' he says.
Saddam Hussein on Sept. 5 called for an Islamic holy war against US forces in the Gulf, and urged Arabs to overthrow King Fahd of Saudi Arabia and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.
Fisher says the Iraqi leader's heated rhetoric comes as no surprise. ``I would expect someone in his tight situation to be saying something like that, especially the way Bush has been building up our military.
``This call for war makes it even more important for somebody to produce an answer. Saddam may be trying to shock his opponents into talks. It's like the rabbit and the briar patch. What does the rabbit really want?'' Fisher asks.
Fisher, Ury, and other experts suspect that Saddam wants economic concessions in return for any negotiated deal on his part.
Richard E. Rubenstein, director of the Center for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University, agrees and says: ``Economic moves on the part of the West can be perceived by Saddam to be just as threatening as military moves. From his point of view, the US conspired with the Saudis and Kuwait to knock the bottom out of oil prices. I have heard US oil people argue the same point. Saddam may have thought he faced bankruptcy before he moved into Kuwait.''
Equally important, and part of the same problem, says Mr. Rubenstein, is that ``the Arabs need to do their own decisionmaking.''
``If we impose key decisions on them, we are just the latest colonial power. In this first post-cold-war crisis, the whole third world is watching to see, since the Soviets are now so weak, whether the US will use the UN to impose its will on the rest of the world, in particular the third world,'' says Rubenstein.
Negotiation, says the Center's director, means identifying and meeting the discontent that fuels a crisis. He sees the world moving gradually away from balance-of-power politics toward actually resolving basic problems.
Thus the legitimate interests of the Iraqi people, he says, must be considered, identified, and, if possible, satisfied, if a negotiated solution is to be found.
A test for Washington
John S. Murray, president of the Conflict Clinic, also at George Mason University, says the ability to bring people together to seek peaceful resolutions through diplomacy is growing, despite many tough regional problems in the world.
The cooperative approach, he says, ``involves not only recognizing that violence is ineffective, but also seeing that all who have a stake in a problem ought to be part of the process of coming up with a solution.''
Iraq, Mr. Murray says, ``in attacking Kuwait, acted against current codes of civilized behavior.''
But he sees the invasion as an important test for Washington's ability to solve today's regional problems ``through the overriding standard that the basic needs of all parties in a region are important and must be identified and discussed.''
``All nations must be given the message that they themselves are impowered to solve their own problems,'' Murray says.