A series of secret meetings took place between Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein throughout 1987, with mediation from Jordan’s King Hussein, the details of which have for years remained shrouded in mystery.
Now, for the first time ever, Al Majalla is able to publish details of the inside story from someone exceptionally close to the action, offering an insight into the thinking, arguments, and personalities of the leading Arab powers at the time.
The first of the meetings, between just al-Assad and Saddam, lasted 12 hours and ended at 3am with no agreement, despite months of foundation-laying by aides, including Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam.
Based on the private papers and memoirs of Khaddam, our exposé reveals the intricate groundwork and tense attitudes between the two states which, while not at war in 1987, certainly had significant misgivings about one another.
Best involve the Soviets
At the time, in early 1987, both leaders had problems: Al-Assad had just returned from an unsuccessful visit to Moscow, while Saddam was under pressure from the ongoing war with Iran, which had begun seven years earlier, in 1980.
King Hussein informed al-Assad of Saddam’s agreement to hold a secret meeting away from opposition “comrades”. Al-Assad agreed, albeit with reservations about meeting at an airport in Syria, Iraq, or Jordan. Instead, he suggested meeting in a “socialist country”.
Khaddam recalled how al-Assad sought his opinion. The vice president suggested that the meeting be held in the Soviet Union, to ease tensions. If news of the meeting leaked, he said, they could always say they were pressured into it by the USSR.
“The president summoned me to his house at 11pm and asked for my opinion on the situation in the region,” writes Khaddam. “I replied that the situation was grave and that new action needs to be taken.