- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Ba’ath Party of deposed President Saddam Hussein last night rejected any form of negotiation with the new Iraqi leadership, spurning an apparent olive branch held out by President Jalal Talabani at a major conference in Cairo.

However, two party officials, in unprecedented interviews, expressed the Ba’ath Party’s willingness, under strict conditions, to negotiate with the United States for an early exit from Iraq.

In an official communique carried on a pro-Ba’ath Web site, the party dismissed the Cairo conference — designed to reconcile Iraq’s various factions — as a “failure.”

It said the meeting, held under the auspices of the Arab League, had been instigated by the United States “in order to … encourage sectarian divisions and fortify the same sharing of political spoils, but under different puppets.”

The rejection of talks with Iraqi leaders was made even plainer by a Ba’ath Party activist based in one of the Gulf states.

Salah al-Mukhtar, Iraq’s former ambassador to India and North Korea, dismissed the Iraqi leaders meeting in Cairo as “traitors and spies.”

“The Ba’ath Party will never talk to them,” he said, but the party would be willing, under certain conditions, to enter into talks with the real powers in Iraq: the U.S. and British forces.

A similar point was made during a personal encounter in Iraq’s western desert last week between a correspondent for The Washington Times and a Ba’ath Party military officer who agreed to be identified only as Col. A.M. Ahmad.

The officer, who spoke excellent English, said he had served in the office of Saddam’s minister for military industrialization. Official records of the regime showed the colonel to have been a first secretary in the office.

“No, no, no, no, to negotiations with Iraqi puppet regime figures,” Col. Ahmad said yesterday from an Iraqi-based cell phone. “We are willing to talk only to the people who control Iraq, and that is the Americans.”

Mr. Talabani said he was willing to talk to violent opponents of his government.

“If those who call themselves the Iraqi resistance desired to contact me, I would welcome them. I would not refuse to meet any Iraqi who wants to meet me. But, of course, that does not mean I will accept what he says,” he told reporters in Cairo.

Until now, Iraq’s leaders have refused to countenance talks with those who have “blood on their hands,” a phrase used by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari when interviewed by The Times several months ago.

Mr. Talabani said he has not had any contacts with “those whom some describe as the resistance.”

• Distributed by World News & Features

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