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Rumsfeld's 1983 Visit to Baghdad

Donald Rumsfeld with Saddam Hussein in 1983 on an official visit to Iraq.

With the Iran-Iraq war escalating, President Ronald Reagan dispatched his Middle East envoy, a former secretary of defense, to Baghdad with a hand-written letter to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and a message that Washington was willing at any moment to resume diplomatic relations.

That envoy was Donald Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld’s December 19-20, 1983 visit to Baghdad made him the highest-ranking US official to visit Iraq in 6 years. He met Saddam and the two discussed “topics of mutual interest,” according to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry. “[Saddam] made it clear that Iraq was not interested in making mischief in the world,” Rumsfeld later told The New York Times. “It struck us as useful to have a relationship, given that we were interested in solving the Mideast problems.”

Just 12 days after the meeting, on January 1, 1984, The Washington Post reported that the United States “in a shift in policy, has informed friendly Persian Gulf nations that the defeat of Iraq in the 3-year-old war with Iran would be ‘contrary to U.S. interests’ and has made several moves to prevent that result.”

In March of 1984, with the Iran-Iraq war growing more brutal by the day, Rumsfeld was back in Baghdad for meetings with then-Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz. On the day of his visit, March 24th, UPI reported from the United Nations: “Mustard gas laced with a nerve agent has been used on Iranian soldiers in the 43-month Persian Gulf War between Iran and Iraq, a team of U.N. experts has concluded... Meanwhile, in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, U.S. presidential envoy Donald Rumsfeld held talks with Foreign Minister Tarek Aziz (sic) on the Gulf war before leaving for an unspecified destination.”