March 15, 5008 – Al Hayat: When Saddam Hussein asked you to meet with him, didn’t you suspect something was getting prepared since he never met with ambassadors?
April Glaspie: He met occasionally with ambassadors; I had met him once before he brought over a group of ambassadors. I had not met with him singly, for he never even accepted credentials himself, so he did not receive any new ambassador presenting his credentials. As for my meeting with him, a week before he invaded Kuwait in 1990, the foreign ministry called me. I assumed they called me to tell me to come to talk in the Foreign Ministry to Nizar Hamdoun who was deputy to Tarek Aziz and possibly talk to Tarek himself. They just asked me to come without telling me who I was to meet. Then once I arrived to the Foreign Ministry they put me in a car I had never seen with a driver I have never met. They told him to take me somewhere and I wanted to know before where I was heading to in this car. They said you are going to the Presidency. On my way I still did not think I was going see Saddam, I thought somebody else because he did not call anybody to meet with. When I realized that it was he that I was going to see, I thought that it was not impossible that the very strong warnings that had been given to the Iraqis by me through Nizar Hamdoun and also and specially to the Iraqi ambassador in Washington by our Deputy Assistant Secretary might not have been reported to him because everybody was so terrified of him. So I said it was a good opportunity for me to repeat my instructions which were do not invade Kuwait, keep your hands off this country. When the Iraqi ambassador to Washington was summoned by the State Department, he was told not to invade Kuwait and was urged to inform Bagdad of this instruction immediately. Everybody in the Arab world was concerned, knowing the man is unpredictable. So as soon as this meeting in Washington was finished the one with the Iraqi ambassador I repeated them to Nizar Hamdoun in Bagdad and told him my President( Georges Bush) is very concerned that your President be informed immediately about the warning not to invade Kuwait . Of course, it was then useless to ask to see Saddam because he always said no. You could not see anybody in Bagdad. Michel Aflaq lived in Bagdad but no foreigner was permitted to call on him even though in Iraqi protocol at the time you would be interested to know he outranked the President of the Republic.
Al Hayat: When you saw Saddam what was your conversation with him? Were you aware of the Iraqi troops massing along the border with Kuwait? Did the satellite monitor that?
A.G: Not only satellites but everybody in Iraq could see troops going to the south, trains for instance, we did not know exactly the number but we saw enough to understand as well as the Kuwaitis and everybody became deeply concerned. So Yes we all knew he was preparing for this. We had a visit from the Arab League Secretary General, an Egyptian envoy, many Arab envoys some of them came quietly; we did not know of them, everybody was concerned.
Al Hayat: Was He alone when he summoned you and you saw him?
A.G: No Tarek Aziz was there and two or three of his aides to take notes.
Al Hayat: Did he start talking directly to you?
A.G: Not quite direct, he started by telling me how very badly behaved the Kuwaitis were, referring also on the meetings in Jeddah that were held he was saying that they are unreasonable and blaming them. His whole accusation of the Kuwaitis made me concerned that the next thing he was going to say was going to take us backward 20 years when a previous Iraqi President said that Kuwait was a part of the southern wilayat of Iraq. It came to my mind that he was going to say so. So, although he had much more to say when he paused, I delivered my message.
Al Hayat: Bagdad then gave a version of your meeting with him saying you told him that the US government does not interfere in border disputes bewteen two Arab countries which he took as a green light form the Americans to attack Kuwait.
A.G: This version was invented by Tarek Aziz. After all Tarek was a master of words as a previous Minister of Information and editor of a newspaper. Obviously I did not give Saddam any such idea that we would not interfere in a border dispute what I did tell him was he must not interfere in Kuwait or anywhere else. Then we were interrupted and he got up politely; somebody came in and he said excuse me I have an important phone call. So we all sat there and waited for him to come back.. He came back and told us Egyptian President Husni Mubarak called him and said that he told Mobarak not to worry, that there will be no problem and that he will deal with it without making problems; that it will be ok. Then I said to him I take great pleasure telling my President you have assured me that there will be no problem and that was basically it.
Al Hayat: Did you tell him you were going on vacation?
A.G: He already knew of course I was going. For any foreign diplomat to leave Bagdad you had to inform the Foreign Ministry to get permission for Arab and foreign diplomats. When the Jordanian ambassador to Bagdad wanted to drive home he had to take permission from the Ministry. Saddam knew I was leaving and I was fully planning not to leave when all this concentration of troops started.
Al Hayat: What made you change and leave on vacation?
A.G: Foolish! I thought if he told me and told Mobarak and I Made sure he told mobarak what he said to us, I checked with our ambassador in Cairo on this, I thought he would not be foolish enough to do it the day he told the most powerful person in the Arab world and the Western world that he was not going to do it. I Thought I could take my mother who was ill at home and turn around and come back within five days. When saying good bye to Saddam, he said something I cannot remember precisely but it was something like you can go now, relax and have a nice vacation but you must tell your President about the problems the Kuwaitis are making.
I might add that Tarek Aziz was responsible for very cleverly advising Saddam when I got out of town, because the British ambassador and the Russian ambassador had already departed on vacation so there were no senior diplomats of a major power in Bagdad. It was interesting that we all were out of Iraq when he invaded Kuwait.
Al Hayat: Some sources in the State Department had mentioned that you had not received instruction and guidance from your government or from Secretary of State James Baker then?
A.G: No, that is not true. I received instruction that I carried out. I would say that the meeting in Washington of the Iraqi ambassador at the State Department was a week before I left and my instructions came from that meeting. I went to the Foreign Ministry I think five times and repeated the instruction not to do anything against Kuwait. About leaving I had asked a few weeks before if Icould leave, then when the situation became very threatening I thought as Saddam said to me and to President Mubarak that there would be no war that it would be a good chance to take my mother who was ill home and to consult with the Secretary of State and we had an important congressional visitor due to arrive and I thought I would be back in Bagdad within five days in time to be with this congressional visitor in the hope that Saddam would see him and he then could say it is not just the US government asking you not to invade Kuwait but also Congress, the American people were against him attacking Kuwait.
Al Hayat: But Saddam terrified people when you were with him in this meeting were you very diplomatic or harsh with him?
A.G: I was the representative of the President of the United States. Of course I was not afraid of Saddam Hussein. What I was afraid of was that he would do a very serious mistake and miscalculate as he did; the determination of a great many people in the world not to let him take Kuwait. I think he misunderstood a lot of Arabs, he had for an instance an idea that the Saudis would allow staging areas in their country and Gulf States as well; and I certainly think he misunderstood the backbone of the American government. Somebody had said to me once that they heard him talk about how Vietnam had weakened the resolution of the American people and the American government; he thought that we did not have the guts to do anything. The other thing about him was that he was unbelievably ignorant altghough certainly not a stupid man. He designed that Baas uniform to look like a military uniform; we know that he never spent one minute fighting, he was never in an army, he knew nothing about armies. But just like the shah the more power he got the more he thought he knew. He suddenly became Iraqi expert on military supplies, on agrarian reform, on culture, on everything, when you get somebody with that state of mind who also thinks l’etat c’est moi, you are dealing with a very dangerous parameter.
Al Hayat: Was he totally autistic or you think he misread what you told him?
A.G: It is just what i said. I think he listened, he never got as stupid not to listen even briefly but he thought he knew that I was talking through my head, that my government did not have any guts, that we would not fight and certainly not for that little tale of desert that was Kuwait for him.
Al Hayat: Did you have the impression that for him what he claimed oil theft by Kuwait was the issue? Or he was just megalomaniac?
A.G: Yes he was megalomaniac.
Al Hayat: Was he really backed by some Arab allies like King Hussein of Jordan as rumours spread?
A.G: No never, King Hussein knew this is too dangerous; you are dealing with a megalomaniac who may go after you next. I think his whole political career derived from overcoming the humiliation of his past .He came from nowhere, he was a selfmade man , he understood the power of the pen .When you went to the so called museum of revolution in Bagdad you might have thought you would see Saddam’s shirt but you would see the typewriter he used to persuade those who followed him. He grew up at a time when Iraqis believed understandably they were worthy of the leadership of the Arab world just as Egyptians are , decades when we heard about unity; ,unity and even the Baas split and he was there. Nobody paying attention to him at all except those people whose lives he ruled. He must have known a good deal of the ideology of the Baas when he was younger. So it was not the party and what Michel Aflaq wanted, it was his own sense of becoming the leader of the Arab world, after all in his own thinking, I who stood against the ancient enemy and beat them back (his war with Iran) the pillar of “Al Ourouba” he used to say during his war with Iran.
Al Hayat: Did he tell you after that famous meeting “go on vacation, don’t worry, I will not attack”?
A.G: Yes he said go and please while you are there tell your president not to worry but it is a serious situation here. So I said I am going but I’ll be right back.
Al Hayat: Why all this blame from Baker and Washington on you, was it not unfair to you?
A.G: President Bush was superb, he asked me to go and see him, it must be difficult for Presidents of countries who have too many things to think of to have been able to do so much thinking and having a conversation with him on the Middle East made me think like I was talking to any important personality I could think of in the Middle East. He was extremely thoughtful, extremely knowledgeable, extremely worried as he should have been. But it is over. Nobody wants to take the blame. I am quite happy to take the blame. Perhaps i was not able to make saddam believe that we would do what we said we would do but in all honesty i don t think anybody in the world could have persuaded him .And don t forget that eventhough i persuaded some people around him that we meant what we said,who would dare tell him that his political calculations about the arab world and the western world were incorrect ,that his military calculations were absolutely correct and his calculations about the state of his own country were wrong because the shiites were not as frightened of him as he thought they were .
Al Hayat: What instructions Washington wanted you to do and they believed you did not implement?
A.G: Absolutely nothing that i did not implement everything is written down, we had all these meetings in the foreign ministry before i saw Saddam, they knew I have done what i was told to do.
Al Hayat: But was there a mistake somewhere from somebody? Why this judgment of you as if something went wrong?
A.G: I think because everybody thought we had some breathing space. President Mubarak made a statement saying he had spoken to saddam and that nohing will happen, so I think we all were wrong every single one of us was wrong. I am not Arab, but I would point out that even the Arabs were wrong. Everybody relaxed a little bit and thought he would not do it right away, particularly Arab officials working behind the scenes, in my personal opinion, looking back whatever saadoun hamadi reported to Saddam after that jeddah meeting must have made him decide he was not going to let this little country in his view kuwait interfere anymore with what was due to him and to Iraq. Don’t forget that he was very fond of saying and started to believe that in standing up against Iran he has saved those little countries down there and they owed him money and respect, this is how he was thinking in my opinion.
Al Hayat: Did he tell you that?
A.G: No but this is what I think.
Al Hayat: What about the Kuwaiti leadership, what was happening then did you talk to them?
A.G: What more could they have done? I lived in Kuwait and extremely fond of this country and its people entreprising hard headed commercial people, Beirutis should understand above all the Kuwaitis who are smart business people and lived in the shadow of the big brother at the time and that is not fun. At the time, they have done their very very best to maintain their own sovereignty and fend off this wolf who wanted to get them.
Al Hayat: Do you think saddam s invasion of Kuwait was the beginning of the end for him?
A.G: It certainly rained him in but it did awake a more active resentment in Karbala and Najaf amongst the Shiites because at the end of the Iraq/ Iran war remember what happened , but he had always shown he could stamp on descent effectively and he was doing it again. A very distinguished Iraqi Sunni professor at Bagdad University who was tortured by Saddam but got out of Iraq years before the war once said to me something which is perfectly obvious, but sometimes we tend to forget very obvious things. He said there is only one thing in the world that would make the general Sunni population ever get behind Saddam, because for every reason that we know they have been terrorized by him and that is if they though there was a real possibility of the Shiites taking control in Bagdad. That is perfectly obvious but for a diplomat it is important to remember.
Al Hayat: But the Shiites in the war were not with Iran, they backed Saddam?
A.G: They did not seem to be but he had to always worry that they would be that is why he stepped on them even harder.
Al Hayat: Since you left what did you think of what happened in Iraq? What did you think of the trial of Saddam and the killing of Oudei and Qusai?
A.G: Well, you know past is past either we learn from it or we don’t, but the British had an extraordinary weapon, the Gatlin gun and they could not quell Iraq 100 years old but in the end they could not do it. We tried to do it. What happened to Saddam was obviously an Iraqi decision. I certainly think it must have been a difficult one, as long as he was alive he must have been perceived by many Iraqis likely to reappear and they would have been afraid of him obviously to make a martyr is the other side of the argument. I cannot pass my judgment it is an Iraqi issue not an American one.
Al Hayat: But what did you think of the trial and developments?
A.G: I don t know, all I read is the newspapers I simply cannot comment on trial.
Al Hayat: Do you think that the American war in Iraq was a good thing?
A.G: As I said, the British with extraordinary technology of their time tried very hard, spoke more Arabic than the current coalition forces, were working within their old former mandate, they had all the maps they knew every place in Iraq from north to south and they could not do it. I think that the reasons that they could not do it are there for anybody to read and the same difficulties have emerged now. And as I said the only thing to get the Sunnis to pull together behind Takrit with Saddam gone is the fear that they were going to be ruled by the Shiites, which is obvious to us all.
Al Hayat: Do you think Iraq will be for a long time under occupation? Will it be possible for any new US President to withdraw from Iraq?
A.G: I suppose all kinds of things are possible and most of them are probably unwise but to me, there is only one thing that needs to happen and that is creative, active courageous diplomacy. And I think there has to be from the West there has to be really deeper understanding than I have seen of the profundity of the animosities in Iraq, it is very easy to make speeches saying the Kurds are very different from the Arabs and the Shiites Arabs are very different from the Sunnis, it is a very profound and complex ancient difficulty, that has to be understood much better. I was once reprimanded for saying that I truly believe that despite things that were said at the time that there were a new axis of crisis it was not Palestine.
Al-Hayat: Who reprimanded you?
A.G: My boss, I truly believe that if there is only one key to get things going positively in the Middle East remains Palestine because it affects the whole area. Again some people in the west do not understand how profoundly it affects the whole area , not only neighbors but the very fact this extreme Islam is a new kind of colonialism that wants to impose upon the Arab world an idea which does not leave free to the Arab people the ability to find their own way with tolerance and respect of everybody else . So, if something could get going on the Israeli Arab side, people like Oussama Ben Laden would be unable simply to snap their fingers and say we must go blow Arab civilians in the name of Palestine because the Palestinians would not want it anymore, to say nothing of the stability that would creep north to your country and in the Arab world. I think we need a very courageous diplomacy, we need people to lead, we need the kind of meeting that the Baker Hamilton committee suggested, but not one meeting, you need to go meet for example one senior Iranian and talk to him, we need everybody drawn in not excluding the Turks to deal with this issue of Iraq not excluding the Israeli Arab problem. I have been impressed by very courageous knowledgeable voices amongst the Palestinians and certainly among the Israelis, we need these people to step forward. During my whole world in the Arab world wherever I went slogans “Wouhda Hurriya Ishtirakiya” and to me even more now that then it is the Hurriya that seems to me in every sense of the word was and should me the most important. After Suez the Egyptians rejoiced not just because the colonialists were defeated but they felt they have gained the freedom to develop themselves, their State. After Suez the Americans were heroes because anti colonialists but also because this thirst for Hurriya the most important for them, of course not the way Oussama Ben Laden wishes us to develop because there has to be tolerance and respect or you’ll never have political settlement and no stability for future generation.
Al Hayat: Going back to Iraq and Kuwait how big was the issue of oil in Saddam’s war?
A.G: I can only speculate, I do not think it was oil per say, the importance of oil wells as much as finance. His thinking was we Iraqis bleed for you, we had hundreds and hundreds and thousand s of casualties with the war on Iran and you did not fight with us, we did this for you, for the whole world, you must help us we need more money .
Al Hayat: There is still a question that you did not answer clearly, why did the state department blame you?
A.G: The President did not, the press spokesman did not blame me, my colleagues did not blame me, and so if one man blamed me you have to ask him. Perhaps if I were to blame he was not to be blamed I suppose.
Al Hayat: But James Baker’s blame on you was so unfair that people ask the questions?
A.G: President Kennedy told us life is unfair. I do not know the man, I have never even met him before the war, I have never met Baker in my life before the war, the first time I ever talked to him is when President Bush asked me to go over and see him and Baker was at that meeting, that was the first time I ever met him.
AL Hayat: When you met him how was it?
A.G: I don t know I was talking to the President. It was the President’s meeting. I saw him a few times later. The meeting with the President was very satisfactory.
Al Hayat: Baker did not make any comment during meeting?
A.G: I cannot remember, during this meeting Colin Powel was there, the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff that was before the American attack to get him out of Kuwait.
Al Hayat: Why did you see the President?
A.G: The President wanted to discuss what to do in Iraq; he invited his staff and asked me also to be in.
Al Hayat: The President then did not invite you to the meeting to reprimand you.
A.G: Absolutely not, he said now what we do.
Al Hayat: So he did not reprimand you?
A.G: Quite the contrary.
Al Hayat: Did he read your cables on Iraq?
A.G: I assume he read summaries of them, in our government cables from overseas are summarized every morning for the president.
Al Hayat: When President Bush was discussing what to do now in Kuwait,
Were you an encouraging voice for him to attack and get Saddam out of Kuwait?
A.G: I am not going to discuss what I said to the President but obviously we all thought the Iraqis must get out of Kuwait immediately. We talked about what could be done.
Al Hayat: You knew President Hafez Assad, what about his personality compared to that of Saddam whom he hated?
A.G: I served in Bagdad as of 1988, from 85 to 88 I was in Washington; I was responsible in the State Department for Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. I left Damascus in 1985 where I was number two in the US embassy with Bill Eagleton and before it was Ambassador Paganelli. I used to work with a lot of Lebanese in Damascus. I spent my whole time looking across the border at the chaos that was in Lebanon. That is how I know Walid Joumblat and Marwan Hamade, I was living in Damascus and I used to see them there.
Al Hayat: When did you start your mission in Iraq?
A.G: In 1988 I Left Washington to Bagdad.
Al Hayat: Between 85 and 88 you were doing a mission in Lebanon?
A.G: Between 85 and 88 I was shuttling between Abdel Halim Khaddam and Beirut where Amin Gemayel was President.
Al Hayat: How did you find Khaddam when negotiating with him?
A.G: He was a very difficult man to know, he had quite a mask, I could only judge him by what we knew about his history. Do you remember when he pushed the Maronites so hard that we had an Intifada. I was going back and forth trying to do what our Algerian friend Lakhdar Ibrahimi, wonderful diplomat achieved in Taef, but people were asking me to do things that I thought were impossible. Khaddam was a very tough negotiator, getting him to compromise on any issue took a very long time. We started from a very difficult position such as suggestion that I write a constitution for Lebanon and my answer was I could not write a Constitution for my own country, I am not going to write a Constitution for Lebanon, I have never heard something as ridiculous in my life and said that what the Lebanese must do if they wished to have a written Constitution. So you started from very strong positions and of course what we ended up doing trying to put heads of agreement, general ideas that could be negotiated and I remember at some point Khaddam telling me: You sell that to Amin Gemayel. I said to him, look, Amin Gemayel has to be the judge of whether or not he can sell that to his own people and said to him I think you made that mistake once, Khaddam said yes, occasionally he could be quite amusing. So it was a classic negotiation what Kofi Anan is doing in Nairobi, trying to get two parties profoundly distrusting each other to compromise.
Al Hayat: What did you think of Amin Gemayel at the time?
A.G: I think he was a serious negotiator; he was concerned about his country, absolutely. I never felt he was promoting himself, he had advisors whose judgment I assumed he trusted or they would not have been his advisors like Ghassan Tueini, useful to be listened to. Amin Gemayel was trying to do the very best he could for his country knowing that any serious change in the Constitution for example the commander of the army was going to be very difficult to sell to the community or if you were going to change the powers of Prime Minister and give him more of the powers of the President these principles were very difficult at the time for the community concerned to give up.
Al Hayat: Had you met then Michel Aoun?
A.G: I had never met him, I had no desire to meet him, I did not think Michel Aoun was the person for me to be speaking to, people in Lebanon were represented by their Prime Minister and their President and those were the two people I met with.
Al Hayat: But Amin Gemayel appointed him prime minister.
A.G: I left not long before Taef Lakhdar Ibrahimi took over, he did extremely well, he got them all to come to Taef with the great assistance of the Saudis and he got it done.
AL Hayat: Were you aware at that time of Rafic Hariri’s Role?
A.G: Rafic Hariri was of course in and out of Damascus very often and he always called on my ambassador, and I was always there. He was behind the scenes, he wanted to help, it was his country too, I am sure he felt that he had obvious assets he could bring, his connections around the Arab world, but the trick was to find some kind of a political concept which was acceptable to all the Lebanese and which all of us thought could do the job. We were working towards Taef without knowing that we were going towards Taef. And a lot of work was done.
Al Hayat: Did you feel that the Syrian leadership hated Hariri then?
A.G: I have no idea, he came in and out to Damascus and never asked him who he was seeing and he never volunteered it. One of the reasons also he would come there was also to talk to the Lebanese.
Al Hayat: Have you ever met Samir Geagea?
A.G: No, I never met him, of course when I was in Lebanon I met people but when I was in Damascus and left to Washington and asked to help and I was shuttling between Damascus and Beirut; it was proper only to meet with the President and Prime Minister.
Al Hayat: Everybody thought at that time that the US administration handed over Lebanon to Syria.
A.G: Quite the opposite, the Americans had stepped aside for a very long time; we had done nothing during the long civil war.
Al Hayat: When Syria invaded again Lebanon?
A.G: I don t know, you asked me about the time I was there, we got permission to see what we could do, to see if there is some kind of arrangement that could be made between Syria and Lebanon that would help. Sitting in Damascus, I thought that we’d better hurry up. Let me tell you an interesting story, one of my pals in Damascus was called up for his reserve duty in the military, for his sixth or eighth week of duty he was sent to the Bekaa (He was Christian) and when he came back I saw him at a dinner party he told me can we speak alone a bit? He told me you people better do something, he said what is happening in the Bekaa is frightening to me and my friends who were there. We did not realize that the Iranians were basically setting up a department of social services in the Bekaa as of 1984, if you were sick or old they took care of the people in the Bekaa, from that time. The Iranian embassy was next to the British embassy in Damascus, suddenly the Iranians sent the ambassador who was crippled and minister of dirty tricks in Teheran, the joke was that he’d opened his own letter bomb by mistake, and after he arrived we used to see all these cars with Lebanese plates like Nasrallah and others, he was really creating Hezbollah out there under our noses, we could see it. I remember at a State dinner that President Hafez Assad had for Greek Prime Minister, the Pakistani ambassador was very amusing, he came up to me and said there is somebody I’d like you to meet, he took me by the arm and turned me round and I am face to face with the Iranian ambassador who stepped back and turned around and backed away, he felt I was unclean.
Al Hayat: Did President Hafez Assad talk to you about Lebanon?
A.G: President Assad did not talk to me; I was number two in the embassy. I met him so many times I was with my ambassador or with a Senator or Secretary of State.
Al Hayat: How was his thinking about Lebanon was it that Lebanon is a province of Syria?
A.G: Hafez Assad was so smart in many ways I remember him once saying: “Do no think I am foolish enough to believe that I can create an air force (I think he chose air force because it would be the part of military he knew most since he came from it) that can compete with the Israelis within a generation. Why? Because it is not sophisticated fast planes that made good air forces, it is pilots who had the advantage of having a splendid education from the time they were children. Not just brief technical education, he was right wasn’t he? But I wish I could have asked him a question I never understood by doing the Iranians the favor of allowing them to export their revolution to Lebanon from the Iranian embassy in Damascus, it seemed to me and to anybody who was watching that what was going on in the Bekaa and in the South the weaponry that must have been going in, the independence of a group of people that in the end would be very difficult to control and which you could not control by cutting off their grenade because they had already so many buried that they could fight for years, seemed to me a very dangerous thing for Syria , it was an Islamic revolution and remember what happened to Syria when the “Ikhwan” tried to take over in the North . I could never understand why he could be so certain that this could not turn around and bite Syria on the heel because he cannot control Hezbollah.
Al Hayat: Was he convinced that Lebanon is part of Syria or he needed Lebanon for his agenda in the region?
A.G: He was much too clever to give us such an insight. He would never say this. It would be the kind of thing Saddam and Iraqis would say about Kuwait that it was part of Iraq historically. Assad was much too subtle to say or imply anything like that.
AL Hayat; But he refused embassies between both countries?
A.G: Absolutely, but I just don’t know what he thought. If you were very old fashioned you could argue about whether or not he believed in Baas ideology, if he did there should not be any Syrian embassy anywhere.
Al Hayat: How would you compare Saddam and his people and aides to Hafez Assad and his aides?
A.G: Completely different, everybody around President Assad respected his power. Assad was much too subtle and smart to want people to say yes to him all the time.
Al Hayat: What about the “Moukhabarat” system in both countries? How do you compare?
A.G: A little more subtle in Damascus. For example my life as a diplomat in Syria was as free as it would have been in Beirut, no doubt people were watching us and knew where we were but no Syrian would think twice about inviting me to their house; I was surrounded by people who had been to AUB.In Bagdad, no Iraqi was allowed to invite a foreign diplomat to his house. And if a foreign including Arab diplomat wanted to invite any Iraqi, any, to their house you had to make a formal request to the Foreign Ministry including the invitation card and the Foreign Ministry would decide any invitation card would be sent. I never entered an Iraqi house except once and that was for a cultural event.
Al Hayat: You attended meetings as number two with Assad and with Saddam two Baas leaders who hated each other what would you say of both?
A.G: Assad was the Eastern Mediterranean, a Levantine; he could be extremely charming which is interesting coming from a very disadvantaged background as he was in every way. He had a great deal of self confidence, he was charming, he could have been a Beirut hostess, he could be genuinely amusing, he always spoke Arabic although I knew from his pilot training he must know some English. We once had Senator Tower visiting him in his office. There was President Assad and Senator Tower and me only in his office; Senator Tower smoked, there was a big bowl of cigarettes and the Senator ran out of cigarettes. Assad pushed the bowl towards him and they were all Syrian cigarettes and of course the Senator did not know, so Assad said suddenly in English a very complex sentence with lots of subordinate clauses: “I am sorry I do not have any American or English cigarettes which I know you would have preferred”. Had I known you smoke I certainly would have, and my jaw dropped so surprised I was although I was supposed to keep a straight face, he looked at me and laughed out loud and said in Arabic: “Senator she dropped her pencil so I shocked her”. He really laughed and we did as well. Saddam when you were with him there was this huge tension in the air because everybody in the room from his own staff was afraid of him and I never heard him make a joke but if he would have, everybody would have laughed. It was a completely different aura. In Iraq, it was much more frightening for example: It never occurred to me for example if I were in the North of Syria that I should avoid getting out of my car to buy some plums. The Syrians could not care less. I did that in Kurdistan once, it was very foolish of me because we all knew that you could not talk to any Iraqi, they got taken away and interrogated but I was in a little Kurdish village.
I put my head out of the window of my car and asked if there was any honey because Kurds are very famous for their white honey. He said no there isn’t, I drove away and I looked back. They were following me with a car.
Al Hayat: After Irak what did you do?
A.G: I went to University of California to teach one year and then ambassador Ed Perkins to the UN in New York asked for me; which was very nice of him. There was a big conference on the environment. Then Madeleine Albright became Secretary of State and she asked that I be replaced. I never met her before I don t know the reason, she never told me. She was the new ambassador in New York and I went back to Washington and I was asked by the African Bureau if I would work with them because they were concerned about Sudan at the time. I must say that was very interesting that was long before Darfur. We were trying to put north and south together. So I did some work on that between Washington and New York. Then I was asked to run the office of Southern African Affairs a year before elections that brought Mandela in South Africa, the year before first democratic in Mozambique and a year before peace treaty in Angola , so there was three big issues to deal with. They were all done. I went briefly to Somalia, it was really awful, the UN sent a Turkish general to run the military and an American to run the civilian side, I went for two to three months to help him. It was a very sad scene.
Al Hayat: And now what are you doing?
A.G: Completely retired.
Al Hayat: I heard rumors about an American publisher who asked you to write a book on Iraq and you refused and they blackmailed you and they paid you money for a book and you refused.
A.G: No publisher has ever spoken to me about a book whatsoever or asked me to write a book or advanced money or never had I asked a publisher if he would publish a book.
Al Hayat: Nobody asked you to speak about your experience with Saddam even in the press?
A.G: Nobody asked me to write a book, nobody asked me to write an article of any kind about anything in the United States. You are the only person I have talked to; in the US they were writing books, they wanted to interview me for their books.