No Private Diplomacy on Hostages

WHITE HOUSE press secretary Marlin Fitzwater is surely correct in his assessment that prominent individuals who travel to Baghdad, hats in hand, to secure release of some of the foreign hostages held by Saddam Hussein are being ``used'' by the cynical Iraqi dictator. Although the humanitarian goals espoused by these self-appointed emissaries are commendable, they are offering themselves as pawns in Saddam's high-stakes game. Saddam obviously is attempting to split the alliance of countries demanding his withdrawal from Kuwait, and to weaken the resolve of the member countries by toying with the emotions of hostages' families.

In recent days a parade of onetime government leaders has trooped to Iraq to implore Saddam for a few crumbs of decency. Former British prime minister Edward Heath met with Saddam a couple of weeks ago. Last week two other former prime ministers, Yasuhiro Nakasone of Japan and Willy Brandt of West Germany, also were in Baghdad. Each left with a planeload of hostages, principally citizens of their respective nations.

Why would Saddam release some of his ``human shields'' simply at the request of some erstwhile dignitaries? Because they offer him something in return. True, they are not negotiating the release of hostages on behalf of their governments, and they cannot bind their governments to any deals. But prominent international figures like Heath, Nakasone, and Brandt lend respectability to Saddam's callous extortion and soft-pedal world outrage at his conduct.

Just as there is an economic boycott of Iraq while it occupies and dismantles Kuwait, there should be a boycott on these groveling audiences with Saddam by unofficial envoys and on this trafficking in human lives. They can only complicate and prolong the resolution of the Gulf crisis.

We, like all feeling people, are relieved when any of the hostages are allowed to exit Iraq. If Saddam were truly the humanitarian he portrays himself to be, he would immediately release all the hostages and allow them to return to their families.

In the meantime, negotiations regarding their release should be left to professional diplomats, who will act not only in the interests of the hostages but also in the interests of their governments and the world community.

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