Khaddam conveys an Iranian offer to Saudi Arabia: Stop your support for Saddam in exchange for us stopping media campaigns against you (1 of 5)

publisher: المجلة AL Majalla

AUTHOR: ابراهيم حميدي

Publishing date: 2024-02-19


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Iraqi President Saddam Hussein with his soldiers on the border during the Iran-Iraq war between 1980 and 1988.

In early January 1982, two years after the war between Baghdad and Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati visited Damascus and met with President Hafez al-Assad and the then-Foreign Minister Abdul-Halim Khaddam. According to official meeting minutes, Assad emphasized “the necessity of calming the situation with the Gulf states and taking into account their circumstances and concerns, because tension will increase the level of cooperation with the Iraqi regime (Gulf states).” He warned the Iranians: “Expanding the war will lead to the intervention of external forces to control the region and its resources,” and spoke of “the concerns of the Gulf brothers” and “the keenness of these countries to establish good relations with Iran.” Assad requested Velayati to “convey Syria’s viewpoint to the Iranian leadership.”

Indeed, Iran initially committed to “not expanding the war towards the Gulf states despite some tensions that occasionally emerged and approached the brink of confrontation,” according to a Syrian document. It noted that when the crisis erupted between Iran and Bahrain in 1980, “Syria intervened and worked to calm the situation, and the Iranian leadership agreed to a visit by Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Sadegh Tabatabai to Manama accompanied by Khaddam, to meet Sheikh Isa bin Salman, where the Iranian Deputy Prime Minister affirmed that Iran has no ambitions in Bahrain and that it desires to establish good relations with Manama.”

Returning to Velayati's visit to Damascus on January 10, 1982, Khaddam went to Saudi Arabia on Assad's instructions to meet with Crown Prince Fahd bin Abdulaziz and inform the Saudi leadership of the outcomes of Velayati's visit. Khaddam recounts that he said in Riyadh: "President Hafez informed you that he will discuss the relations between you and Iran. Contacts have been made on this matter, and it was agreed that the Iranian Foreign Minister would come to Damascus. During two working sessions with the president and myself, the president spoke extensively and wanted the conversation to be clear. Within the framework of the interests of both parties, Assad raised with the Iranian minister the situation in the region and the dangers surrounding it. He talked about the ongoing conflicts and their repercussions on the entire region, emphasizing that they constitute a threat to everyone. He also explained to him the danger of peripheral conflicts on the countries and peoples of the region and their impact on our collective future. The president also spoke about the recognition by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states of the Islamic revolution in Iran and extending cooperation to it... President Assad also conveyed the kingdom's desire for cooperation... Other Gulf states also extended their hands and opened their hearts to the Islamic revolution and how the Arabs wanted to cooperate with this revolution and how statements were issued from Tehran against them... President Assad added to the impression that Iran is working to intervene in their (Gulf states) internal affairs and has ambitions in the region, and this is a dangerous matter that will increase and deepen the differences and make these countries think about how to confront this situation. The president gave examples of what happened during the Hajj season and the events in Bahrain, as well as discussing the media atmosphere and statements by Iranian officials and others."


President Hafez al-Assad speaks with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati at the presidential palace in Damascus

Khaddam states in his documents: “Prince Fahd interrupted me, saying: ‘These statements they made against us incite discord and differences among Muslims and harm Islamic belief… Also, what is being published in newspapers, radio, and various media outlets, and what they did in the Holy Haram during the Hajj season, delivering speeches that do not befit the sanctity of the place for Muslims and for the Iranian revolution.'”

Khaddam continues that Velayati said: “We have a desire to establish normal relations, but these countries are aiding in the war against us.” Assad responded to him: “Our conviction is that the brothers in the Kingdom and the Gulf states want their relations with you to be positive, not negative, and that the matter does not concern them alone. They desire a positive atmosphere with Iran.”

Iranian Initiative towards Saudi Arabia

According to another document, Khaddam conveyed specific points to the Saudi side that Velayati agreed upon in front of Assad, which are:

“1- The Iranian desire to establish normal and good relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. 2- Not interfering in the internal affairs of any country in the region, and the Iranian government and its institutions or any official in them have no relationship with Bahraini affairs. It was also emphasized that they have no ambitions in any neighboring countries and that they have a desire to establish good relations with the Kingdom and the Gulf states. 3- Regarding the Hajj season, he said that they did not do anything that violates Saudi sovereignty or internal affairs, and that they only chanted slogans against America and Israel, but Saudi employees prevented them. He said that these slogans were not against Saudi Arabia but only to seize the opportunity of Muslims from different countries meeting to educate them that their primary enemy is America and Israel, and to urge them to direct their efforts against this enemy.”

Khaddam recounts that Assad commented on the last point in front of Velayati, saying: “This causes confusion. If every country or group wants to raise slogans during the Hajj season as they wish, imagine a million people in front of you, what happens? If everyone acts as they please, what will happen during the Hajj season? What will the situation be like? It will be a great chaos, and no one knows the extent of its negative impact on Muslims.”

Two pages from two Syrian documents about mediation between Saudi Arabia and Iran

Velayati responded by stating that they “are prepared to halt media campaigns from state-controlled institutions, meaning government media outlets.” He added: “The official views of the Iranian Islamic revolution are only expressed by (the Supreme Leader) Khomeini, the President (Ali Khamenei), the Vice President (Sadegh Tabatabai), or the Foreign Minister (Velayati) himself.” He confirmed Iran’s readiness to send a goodwill mission to both the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, and to receive similar missions in Tehran.

In return, according to Khaddam, the Iranians requested from the Saudis to “halt their intervention in the war alongside Iraq.” Assad stated that he would convey the content of these discussions to Saudi Arabia and “we hope to be able to inform them that you have the desire and are willing to directly request them to implement this step to demonstrate goodwill.”

Khaddam noted that Riyadh informed him that they “agree with this approach to avoid confrontation and tension in the region, and this is an excellent concept in the face of reality,” expressing satisfaction with Assad’s message and efforts, and a desire for their continuation.

On the second day, Khaddam conveyed similar messages to the Amir of Kuwait, Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad, in the presence of his Foreign Minister, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad.

Saudi Rebuke of Saddam

The official Syrian assessment at that time, according to a document evaluating Khaddam’s position, which was among his confidential papers, was that there was “concern among the Gulf brethren and serious possibilities for the situation to escalate and extend, with repercussions on all Arabs and Iranians.” This is because “the war is raging on their borders and sometimes in their waters, and they may have imagined that the Iraqi regime in its war is capable of deterring and eliminating the Islamic revolution. Consequently, they offered financial and economic assistance and facilities to the ruling regime in Iraq, including the use of ports for the transportation of goods and equipment and other matters,” in addition to their concern about the “revolution” in Iran for reasons related to national security and its future.

Another document cited a meeting between Syrian Information Minister Ahmed Iskandar and a Saudi official in February 1983, stating that “the Iraqis request (from us as Gulf countries) to implement the Joint Arab Defense Agreement, and we told them directly: You ask us to fight with you, but did you consult us in starting the war? Did you inform any of the Arabs about your plan to fight Iran? Were there not better and more secure ways than destructive war? If you had consulted, we would have explored a way to resolve the conflict without fighting, destruction, and sacrifices. Saddam went and was among the Algerians to sign a peace agreement with the Iranian Shah, and the agreement was signed in 1975. Then Saddam annulled this agreement and waged war. Now, after two years of fighting, he requests a return to the 1975 agreement. Is this logical?”

He continues, “The Iraqis send their ministers to the Gulf countries and request them not to receive Iranian envoys, and this forced us to tell them that you have no right to do so. By what right do you make such demands? We understand well Syria’s relationship with Iraq, and the right is with you in Syria. They have wronged you greatly and without justification. If we trusted Saddam and could guarantee him, we would have proposed to you some form of reconciliation or calming of tensions. But we know this is not possible, as Saddam has wronged Syria greatly, and we know that at the beginning of the war and even after a year and a half, as I recall, you did not take any action against Iraq. We know that you did not want this war, and neither do we.”

Referring to the Syrian-Libyan-Iranian trilateral meeting, the official said: “We trust in Syria, and our trust in Syria knows no bounds. We do not allow anything to tarnish or undermine this trust. We consult with you, and our trust is absolute in Brother Hafez and in Syria under his leadership. I propose to President Assad to invite the Gulf ambassadors to the Syrian Foreign Ministry to explain Syria’s position on the trilateral meeting and that it is against anyone approaching the borders of the Gulf states.”

Indeed, based on Assad’s directive, Khaddam summoned the ambassadors and clarified Damascus’s position to reassure the Gulf countries that it was not against them.